After numerous delays to his speech, when President Cyril Ramaphosa finally took to the podium in Parliament on Thursday night, he delivered a speech that was devoid of bold, new initiatives.
Ramaphosa endeavoured to deliver the message that the government was aware of most of the challenges that South Africans faced daily and had a plan for them, but he had to ask for patience and acceptance because electricity blackouts will be around for the next eight months.
Ramaphosa has been in power for two years and there has been growing impatience at his great gestures but little decisive action when it comes to the crunch.
For starters, Ramaphosa’s speech was delayed for almost two hours because of unhappiness with his Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan who presides over chaotic and financially draining state-owned enterprises.
The EFF had demanded that he fire Gordhan before the state of the nation address was delivered, but Ramaphosa held firm.
This led to a disruptive opening of Parliament as the EFF tried all the tricks in the book to delay the proceedings because their demands had not been met.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters disrupt Parliament proceedings at the state of the nation address. Picture: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
Early on in his speech, Ramaphosa acknowledged the debilitating damage caused by loadshedding.
“It has severely set back our efforts to rebuild the economy and to create jobs. Every time it occurs, it disrupts people’s lives, causing frustration, inconvenience, hardship,” he said.
Ramaphosa blamed the loadshedding on “the inevitable consequence of Eskom’s inability over many years – due to debt, lack of capacity and state capture – to service its power plants”.
He asked the country to accept that “in order for Eskom to undertake the fundamental maintenance necessary to improve the reliability of supply, loadshedding would remain a possibility for the immediate future”.
Local elections are scheduled to take place in the middle of next year, and Ramaphosa must hope that loadshedding will have ended by then as it could cost his already struggling ANC at the polls.
But for families and businesses that will bear the brunt of this, Ramaphosa’s reassurances that loadshedding will be undertaken in a manner that is predictable and minimises disruption and cost will be cold comfort.
He announced measures to mitigate loadshedding, including enabling the development of additional grid capacity from renewable energy, natural gas, hydro power, battery storage and coal.
Ramaphosa also said the National Energy Regulator would continue to register small-scale generation of under 1MW for own use, for which no licence is required.
“The National Energy Regulator will ensure that all applications by commercial and industrial users to produce electricity for own use above 1MW are processed within the prescribed 120 days,” added Ramaphosa.
The president returned to a subject he has broached for a while now without details: that of reducing government spending.
He said government was busy negotiating with labour and other stakeholders to contain the public wage bill and reduce wastage.
“Efforts to reduce government spending, prioritise resources more effectively, and improve the efficiency of our tax system are important – but insufficient – contributions towards stabilising our public finances,” he conceded.
Another familiar theme was correcting the mismanagement of state-owned entities.
“After years of state capture, corruption and mismanagement, we are working to ensure that all state-owned entities are able to fulfil their developmental mandate and be financially sustainable.”
Efforts will be made to rationalise state-owned entities and ensure that they serve developmental and economic purposes, he said.
This message has become familiar over the years and it is on the details that Ramaphosa will be judged.
Acknowledging a technological future, Ramaphosa announced that government will be introducing coding and robotics in Grades R to 3 in 200 schools, with a plan to implement it fully by 2022.
A decision has also been made to establish a new university of science and innovation in Ekurhuleni.
“This will enable young people in that metro to be trained in high-impact and cutting-edge technological innovation for current and future industries,” he said.
Tracking back to a promise he made last year, when he was accused of dreaming, he announced that a new, post-apartheid smart city is taking shape in Lanseria.
He said the city will not only be smart and 5G ready, but will be a leading benchmark for green infrastructure continentally and internationally.
So was Sona 2020 worth the wait?
The speech will likely convince those who hold on to hope, but will be a disappointment for those expecting far-reaching and bold, new initiatives.
Full speech: Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address by CityPress on Scribd