Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his first state of the nation Address without any interruption, disruption, walkouts or forced removal of MPs by Parliament’s protection officers – the hallmarks of the event in recent years.
At the end of his 85-minute speech, he received a standing ovation from the joint sitting, including applause from the Economic Freedom Fighters who have been a thorn in the side of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. In fact, it was the first time in a while that both the EFF and the Democratic Alliance sat through a Sona until its end.
Brand new from the box, Ramaphosa brought with him a slew of promises on what was only his second day in the highest office. While the EFF, led by its leader Julius Malema opposed his election yesterday, arguing that the National Assembly and its members were illegitimate and should not elect a new president, Ramaphosa repeatedly joked with the young former comrade.
Towards the end of the speech as he quoted the words of the recently departed jazz great Hugh Masekela’s song Thuma Mina, it was Malema who heckled “sing it” bringing laughter to the House.
In his speech, Ramaphosa reflected on the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of late statesman Nelson Mandela, saying the country should honour Madiba by “putting behind us the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment”.
“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.”
Ramaphosa, whose theme was renewal and a new dawn, spoke to how things needed to change in terms of economic growth, building investor confidence addressing concerns about political instability and ensuring policy certainty and consistency. He also spoke of a greater sense of optimism among the people.
Ramaphosa spoke about business confidence among South African companies. He said it had improved, adding that foreign investors were looking anew at opportunities in the country and that some financial institutions had identified South Africa as one of the hot emerging markets for 2018.
Ramaphosa had MPs eating out of his hand when he spoke about radical economic transformation – which he said required fundamental improvement of the position of black women and communities in the economy, ensuring that they are owners, managers, producers and financiers.
He also spoke about the challenge of youth unemployment and announced a Youth Employment Service initiative, which would place unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the economy. This, he said would be launched next month.
“Together with our partners in business, we have agreed to create a million such internships in the next three years. If we are to respond effectively to the needs of youth, it is essential that young people articulate their views and are able to engage with government at the highest level,” said Ramaphosa.
He announced that he would be establishing a Youth Working Group that was representative of all young South Africans to ensure that the government’s policies and programmes advanced their interests.
Ramaphosa also spoke to the issue of land redistribution, which was one of the key resolutions of the ANC national conference held last December and which remains a sore and emotive point for many South Africans.
“We will accelerate our land redistribution programme not only to redress a grave historical injustice, but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation.
“We will pursue a comprehensive approach that makes effective use of all the mechanisms at our disposal. Guided by the resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the governing party, this approach will include the expropriation of land without compensation,” he added.
He said they were determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensure that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid. But the government would undertake a process of consultation to determine the modalities of the implementation of this resolution, he added, while making a special call to financial institutions to be partners in mobilising resources to accelerate the land redistribution programme as increased investment would be needed in this sector.