President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa today delivered his maiden State of the Nation Address after his election on 15 February 2018 to the position of President of the Republic following the resignation of Jacob Zuma two days ago. Much was expected of him and it would seem that he did live up to expectations.
He addressed almost, if not all burning national issues. In no particular order here: reviving the economy; reforming the mining sector; restructuring State corporations; encouraging entrepreneurship; boosting the ease of doing business; encouraging tourism in a bid to give no credit to xenophobia; welfare redistribution; free education at undergraduate level; fiscal reforms; boosting confidence in Government; resizing the Government apparatus etc.
Two key issues stood out as bones of contention. First, the nation was very attentive as to how Ramaphosa was going to address the so-called confrontation between the white capitalist power and black economic emancipation. Ramaphosa seems to have found the way around this dilemma by simply addressing the situation head on. He made it clear that South Africa’s doors must be opened to national and foreign investments in an ethical and lawful society devoid of all corruption. He then went on to state that the Government would work towards building entrepreneurship capacities within the black community and especially among black women.
On the issue of land distribution, Ramaphosa was blunt: “expropriation without compensation”. A statement that immediately led to a loud round of applause in the parliamentary building while in the streets could be heard cheers. However, to avoid any feelings of injustice to those concerned, President Ramaphosa did two things. He recalled the moral backing of this measure by stating that it was in order to redress a grave historical injustice, an argument that no sane white owner of vast swathes of land can refute. Second, he gave assurances about the conduct and nature of the redistribution that will be done in a way as not to harm the agricultural sector and therefore the economy.
In addition, President Ramaphosa thrashed out how the issue of ‘State Capture’ will be handled. He stated that under his new administration, the Justice department will begin inquiries into the extent of State Capture in South Africa and address the situation appropriately. This likely means that the Guptas, Zuma and other former government bigwigs might have to face justice.
Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address has been welcomed by all political parties in Parliament. MPs from different parties gave him a vote of confidence which they warned could be reversed if implementation of all the wonderful things promised starts to lag. In particular, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema, said his party will be watching the President and will hold him accountable if he fails to keep his promises and implement his policies. According to Malema, the major expectation for the EFF was that ex-president Zuma now be tried and punished for his crimes.
President Ramaphosa’s speech was a masterpiece for canvassing for votes. The confidence in state institutions that this speech has brought back to country is a plus for his party, the African National Congress (ANC), that has been struggling in recent years due to former President Jacob Zuma’s mistakes. Not only the promises Ramaphosa made to the black population but the promise of fair opportunities for all, might lead to the return of those ANC voters who had left the party due to Zuma’s errors.
While South Africans look on, teeming with hope, the rest of Africa is left in the cold. At a time when the continent is in dire need of a leader or hegemon that can help bring about security and stability, President Ramaphosa’s speech seemed almost completely oblivious of South Africa’s presence on the African continent. He has indeed created confidence in foreign investors about coming to South Africa, to the extent that the South African Rand made gains in international markets even while he was still speaking, but it is glaring that he declined to mention South Africa reaching out to the rest of Africa. South Africa’s internal problems are clearly the ONLY priority for Cyril Ramaphosa. Charity begins at home.