South Africa’s newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa just delivered his first speech as the nation’s president – he delivered the annual State of the Nation Address (SONA). A jarring change from last year’s address, this year’s proceedings concluded without any disruptions. (In fact, Baleka Mbete’s presence was hardly noted during the proceedings due to the lack of disruptions for her to call to order).
President Ramaphosa delivered an inspiring speech, outlining a clear plan to initiate progress within the country.
His entire speech circled around the concept of ‘unity’, something that the South African government has been lacking for quite some time. His theme was clearly a ‘new dawn’ for South Africa.
He regarded the issue of poverty that runs rampant in the country and admitted, despite mentioning the progress in this field, that the increase in poverty rates needs to be examined.
Following on from former president Jacob Zuma’s ‘free tertiary education‘ promise, President Ramaphosa stated that the minister of Higher Education will be implementing these plans from this year, and that the Finance minister will reveal how the program will be funded during the budget speech scheduled for next week.
Over the last few years, unemployment rates in South Africa have been tragically high, effectively stalling the country’s economic growth. On the issue of job creation, Ramaphosa has stated that the government will be creating a million paid internships over the next three years, and will be focusing on job creation for South Africa’s youth. He has revealed plans for a summit that will address this issue, and expects this summit to create practical solutions that can be quickly implemented.
The president also addressed the issue of corruption, stating that he will ‘turn the tide’ on corruption in South Africa. Jacob Zuma is facing a myriad of corruption charges, which naturally made the country wary of corruption within the government, so this statement is a great relief to all South Africans.
President Ramaphosa has promised an inquiry into the tax administration and governance of South Africa Revenue Service (SARS), and also stated that the National Prosecuting Authority will also be looked into, declaring that he would ‘urgently attend to the leadership issues at the NPA’ in order for it to carry out its duties ‘without any fear, favour or prejudice’.
A loud round of applause followed his statement about instituting a commission of inquiry into the state capture. Clearly, corruption will no longer be tolerated under Ramaphosa’s presidency.
He also stated he will initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.
On the topic of corruption, he indicated that corruption must be tackled in the private sector with the same intensity as it is tackled in the public sector. Ramaphosa indicated state owned entities, such as Eskom, also need to be looked into. He had already made drastic changes at Eskom during his time as deputy president, stating that this is ‘just the beginning of the process we are going to embark on’.
Ramaphosa made promises to remove board members in a number of SOEs, along with aiming to transform the field of mining and helping black business people progress. He discussed the subject of land redistribution, with mixed reactions being received due to the phrase ‘expropriation of land without compensation’.
President Ramaphosa ended the address by quoting the lyrics of Hugh Masekela.
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around
When they triumph over poverty
I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS
I wanna lend a hand
I wanna be there for the alcoholic
I wanna be there for the drug addict
I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse
I wanna lend a hand
This elicited a standing ovation from every person present at the address. In that moment, he blurred party lines, as people sang his praises in unison.
Only time will tell if the president will deliver on these big promises. However, nobody can deny that his words were incredibly encouraging, effectively reigniting the nation’s hope.
Along with the issues mentioned here, the president discussed many other topics. You can read President Ramaphosa’s full State of the Nation Address here.