President Cyril Ramaphosa started his state of the nation speech on Thursday by addressing the inequality that still persists 25 years into the country’s democracy.
His first state of the nation address under the country’s sixth administration took place against a backdrop of numerous service delivery protests – the most recent of which was Wednesday’s phase two of the Alexandra shutdown.
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Thursday also marked the 106th anniversary of the 1913 Natives’ Land Act, and the president opened his speech with a quote from Solomon Plaatje, who was born 143 years ago in what is today the Free State province.
Quoting the journalist who went on to publish Native Life in South Africa – his expose of the ruinous effects of the 1913 Natives’ Land Act – Ramaphosa said: “Awaking on Friday morning, June 20 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”
He added that this legislation almost completely stripped black South Africans of the right to own land and its effects were still evident to this day.
“The effect of that law which was implemented on this day 106 years ago are still present with us today. More than a century after that grave injustice we are called to forge a South Africa where no person will be a slave or a pariah, only free and equal and respected,” said Ramaphosa.
The president said in the past 25 years of democracy there had been significant strides towards clawing the majority of the country’s population out of the jaws of an “economy that has been built to serve the interests of only a few South Africans”.
He acknowledged that some of the steps that his administration would implement towards ensuring equality for all “would be difficult and may not please everyone”.
“In an economy that is not growing, at a time when public finances are limited, we will not be able to do everything at one time,” said Ramaphosa.
He revealed seven key areas of focus that his executive would prioritise:
- Economic transformation and job creation;
- Education, skills and health;
- Consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services;
- Spatial integration, human settlements and local government;
- Social cohesion and safe communities;
- A capable, ethical and developmental state; and
- A better Africa and world
Ramaphosa said one way of attempting to ensure that equality is a reality for all would be for government to “restore the national development plan to its place at the centre of our national effort, to make it alive, to make it part of the lived experience of the South African people”.
Following his address Ramaphosa was accused by opposition parties of “dreaming and not addressing the reality of South African’s lived experiences”.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane criticised Ramaphosa’s speech for being “more rhetoric and no substance.”
“He spoke of having a dream and that address was just that, a dream. There were no tangible steps to address serious issues that he outlined, he simply described the challenges facing South Africans without giving a plan. He should have taken South Africans into his confidence and told them how he seeks to stand up to the unions and those within his own party who speak contrary to him.”