SA faces “tough decisions” to boost economic growth after years of stagnation and boost job creation said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a triumphant maiden SONA.
South Africa faces “tough decisions” to boost economic growth after years of stagnation and boost job creation said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a triumphant maiden State of the Nation Address on Friday, a day after his inauguration.
In a speech aimed at reassuring global markets and winning the confidence of the nation, the former union leader turned billionaire emphasised that the country was moving into a new era of hope.
“We should honour Madiba by putting behind us the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment,” Ramaphosa said.
“We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders. We should put all the negativity that has dogged our country behind us because a new dawn is upon us.
“It is a new dawn that is inspired by our collective memory of Nelson Mandela and the changes that are unfolding.
“As we rid our minds of all negativity, we should reaffirm our belief that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. For though we are a diverse people, we are one nation.”
Ramaphosa promised to transform the mining sector, fight corruption and speed up the redistribution of land while placing job creation and education at the top of his agenda.
Ramaphosa said his government was committed to “policy certainty and consistency”, in contrast to his scandal-plagued predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who was criticised for policy shifts and unpredictable cabinet changes that rocked domestic financial markets and confounded investors. Zuma reluctantly resigned earlier this week at the order of the ANC.
Ramaphosa’s election as president, which was unopposed in Parliament, has prompted a wave of optimism among South Africans hungry for change after nine years of economic stagnation and corruption scandals. Zuma denies all wrongdoing.
“Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilise our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the creation of jobs was a priority for this year. He said mining had potential for growth and jobs.
“We need to see mining as a sunrise industry,” he said.
Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to straighten out the country’s struggling state-owned enterprises and woo overseas investment, an approach he reiterated on Friday night.
Ramaphosa effectively fired Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini by telling Parliament his government would not tolerate people who undermine Constitutional Court judgments on social grants. The speech also probably signalled the exit of Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, highlighting the urgency of fixing ailing state-owned entities.
Ramaphosa said he would cut the size of his cabinet from 35. He said they would appoint a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority.
He also vowed to crack down on corruption and state capture, saying those responsible must be arrested and that law enforcement agencies were on top of the situation.
Ramaphosa ended by quoting the late Hugh Masekela’s song, Thuma Mina, in which he looks forward to a dawn of renewal. The speech was largely welcomed.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, while congratulating Ramaphosa on his speech criticised the insistence on expropriation without compensation.
“It’s a welcome initiative to have a president who is engaged; those are important things. The crucial issues is the focus on young people, something that I’ve been very passionate about. Let’s get young people in the workforce, I welcome these initiatives,” said Maimane.
EFF leader Julius Malema said Ramaphosa had come without a clear plan on funding free higher education.
“There is no plan, he told us what we wanted to hear,” he said.
Malema insisted that Ramaphosa should fire Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who he described as a “deputy delinquent”, before he delivered his budget speech on Wednesday.
Gareth van Onselen, head of politics and governance at the Institute of Race Relations said Zuma and Mbeki before him, had launched no end of processes, commissions and strategies, all of which had with time fallen by the way side.
“While the sentiment was praiseworthy – although it always is in a Sona – those lofty ideals and values President Ramaphosa identified will live or die by how hard he is willing to fight for them and where, exactly, he is willing to draw a line in the sand, especially on the economy. As things stand, he described only the sand. We must all wait to see where the line will be drawn,” Van Onselen said.
Greenpeace Africa’s Happy Khambule said while Ramaphosa had made a compelling attempt to start a new chapter in his Sona address, “by failing to declare that nuclear will not go ahead or provide direction on the country’s energy pathway through the finalisation of the Integrated Resource Plan, he ha created more uncertainty in energy policy”.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, meanwhile, heaped praise on the new president.
“It was very good, very strong,” said Nzimande, the former higher education minister who became a political enemy of former president Jacob Zuma and was fired by him late last year.
“He was clearly looking for a social compact, where everybody contributes.
“And he sent the very clear signal that you cannot do so much, without dismantling the parasitic networks,” he added of large-scale corruption at public enterprises. – Additional reporting by Weekend Argus reporters