Civil society has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s maiden address to the nation and his government’s plans to get the country back on its development pathway.
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said SONA 2018 “hit the bullseye on a number of points”.
“[Ramaphosa] has signalled without equivocation, his commitment to exorcise the spirit of corruption and the culture of pillaging the public purse that has taken root in government and the SOEs. We applaud also, the twin focus on consolidating the economy, AND focus on the integration into the economy, the entrepreneurship and business mentorship of young people and rural economies with support for agricultural production and agribusiness pursuits by disadvantaged communities.” The SACC had raised a number of immediate concerns with government in the past and a number of these were addressed on Friday night, including issues of corruption, education and inequality.
The bishop said the faith community would intensify its prayers for the office of the president, a commitment that seeks to contribute to the end of the “physical, emotional and spiritual hunger,” which is manifest in “poverty, domestic violence and the breakdown of family life, drug and alcohol abuse, hopelessness, religious gullibility, low self-esteem, mistrust and despair”.
The faith community would continue to pray for a South Africa free of racial tension, state capture, and inequality.
The SACC recognised that Jacob Zuma’s departure did not fundamentally change the deep-seated culture of corruption. “Surrounding all three tiers of government is a gaping poisonous moat that chokes the upright in government and enfeebles the institutions of State. Dug over the years by the architects of gross corruption, it has to be drenched dry in order for the good service of government to come out to society,” Mpumlwana said in a statement.
The SACC has called for Ramaphosa to lead his government to build more bridges between government, its institution and the country’s citizens.
“The SACC National Executive Committee suggests that a very low hanging fruit for President Ramaphosa is to set the tone for ethical and accountable leadership in the government by setting a public standard of probity for the selection and appointment of cabinet ministers, senior officials and ambassadors representing government. Removing tainted officials and politicians and ringing changes at these levels will send a clear message that the moat will be drenched dry!”
Mike Pothier, Programme Manager of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) said that Ramaphosa’s use of the phrase “turning the country around” explicitly indicated how poorly the country was being run, noting that the sentiment has not been necessary since 1994. And while the new ANC president has taken charge, “it is the resilience of our people, expressed in myriad ways, from street protest to radio talk-shows, from investigative journalism to court applications, from withholding their votes to changing their loyalties,” that has counted towards this change, said Pothier in a statement. It was “the people saw through the lies and dissembling of Jacob Zuma and his cronies, and sent a message”.
While Ramaphosa’s speech included the usual broad aspirations and vague promises, there were also numerous examples of problems diagnosed and clear remedies prescribed. These included direction on rectifying the management of social grants, state owned enterprises (SOEs) and South African Revenue Services.
“We now have a president who acknowledges that Minister Bathabile Dlamini has been undermining the deadlines set by the Constitutional Court; that SOE board members have been leveraging their positions for personal gain; and that the Zuma-appointees Shaun Abrahams and Tom Moyane have destabilised the NPA and SARS respectively. Such candour would have been unthinkable from Mr Zuma or, for that matter, from Mr Mbeki before him.”
For Pothier, the real difference in this year’s SONA revolves around trust and integrity. “There was no disconnect between what Mr Ramaphosa said and what he has done, unlike in the case of Mr Zuma, who could happily talk about good governance while selling off the state to the Guptas and Vladimir Putin. Mr Ramaphosa comes across as calm, serene, confident, firmly in charge, and clear about what he has to do. Not conflicted, not corrupt, not compromised. It is said that Nelson Mandela wanted Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed him as President. On the strength of his first SONA, we can understand why.”