President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday sounded like a stump speech, crafted with elections in mind and directed at the ANC supporter base.
As expected, the speech reminded South Africans how far they had come since the first democratic elections in 1994.
Watch the address or read the full speech here.
It was, as such, a highlight reel spanning 30 years and summoning the spirit of Nelson Mandela and the struggle.
Ramaphosa related the ANC government’s achievements through the eyes of a child born after 1994 and living in a house provided by the state, enjoying free healthcare and no-fee schooling, while her family had access to clean water and electricity for the first time.
He joked “My pen is ready” to sign the controversial National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which the industry believes is unworkable and certainly unaffordable.
“We plan to incrementally implement the NHI, dealing with issues like health system financing, the health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies, and health information systems,” said Ramaphosa.
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He also lauded the government’s efforts to hold state capture culprits to account, to jeers and cheers from parliament.
Undeterred, he detailed the steps law enforcement took to end corruption. More than 200 people are under prosecution for state capture, while R14 billion in assets had been frozen by the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Asset Forfeiture Unit, with R8.6 billion in corrupt proceeds being returned to the state.
Legislation is currently before parliament to establish the Investigating Directorate as a permanent entity with full investigating powers.
“We will not stop until every person responsible for corruption is held to account.
“We will not stop until all stolen money has been recovered. We will not stop until corruption is history.”
These are words he might soon regret having uttered.
Ramaphosa reminded the country of its solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and welcomed the ruling of the International Court of Justice. He then took a jab at those in the assembly who did not share this view, to applause from his base.
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All the key constituencies were coddled, from workers to women, youth, the disabled and the marginalised.
Sunshine and roses
It was a rosy picture of the country, with nothing but blue skies ahead. Companies are investing, farmers are planting, black South Africans are increasing their ownership of businesses and farmland, and more people have jobs than before Covid.
The plan to end load shedding (more jeers) has been proceeding according to plan under the National Energy Crisis Committee.
“We have delivered on our commitments to bring substantial new power through private investment onto the grid, which is already helping to reduce load shedding,” added Ramaphosa.
The electricity crisis has been ameliorated through tax incentives and financial support, bringing 2 500MW of solar and wind power to the grid, with three times this amount now in procurement and construction.
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To ensure a crisis like this never returns, the energy system is being reformed to make it more competitive and sustainable.
More than 14 000km of new transmission lines will be built to accommodate renewable energy over the coming years. The Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill is before parliament to support the restructuring of Eskom, establish a competitive electricity market, and create thousands of new jobs.
The Northern Cape has become the locus of the green energy revolution, and a Special Economic Zone in the Boegoebaai port is planned to give expression to this.
Ramaphosa pointed to the auction of broadband spectrum after more than a decade of delays, resulting in new investment, lower data costs and improved network reach and quality. Household internet access has increased to 79% from less than 50% in 2011.
Water, education and grants
The president listed off more than a dozen water projects, starting with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which aims to achieve water security for the country.
Sanral has awarded more than 1 200 projects worth about R120 billion, and cabinet recently approved a framework for high-speed rail, starting with the Joburg-Durban corridor.
The Social Relief of Distress grant introduced during Covid now benefits nine million people and will be extended and improved. What was intended as a temporary measure now looks increasingly permanent. Social assistance has been shown to increase school enrolment and attendance, lower drop-out rates, and improve the pass rate, he said.
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Stats and more stats
There were plenty of statistics to support the president’s argument that things have seldom been better: South Africans are living longer, with life expectancy up from 54 years in 2003 to 65 years in 2023, HIV infections have declined, and nine out of 10 people live in formal dwellings. There are 20 000 more police officers on the beat, and Operation Shanela, targeting crime hotspots, has resulted in 285 000 arrests since May 2023.
“We should not give in to those who resist the responsibility that the Constitution places on us all to correct the injustices of the past and fundamentally transform our economy and society,” he said.
“We must remind these people of the obligation that the Constitution places on the state to progressively realise the rights of everyone to housing, health care, food, water, social security, safety and education.”
This was, after all, a rallying cry to the ANC support base, however cherry-picked his assessment of the state of the nation.
“By the same measure, we should not allow anyone to diminish vital democratic institutions, to denigrate the judiciary or to challenge the constitutional authority of this Parliament.”
That, perhaps, was directed at the EFF members who disrupted proceedings in 2023, resulting in new rules for joint sittings that specifically prohibit interruptions while the president is delivering the Sona.