“You, watch this space!” — promises and warnings in Ramaphosa’s SONA2019

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You, watch this space! President Ramaphosa repeated this as he addressed the nation for the second time, as their leader. The phrase rings of promise and hope for many, especially ahead of the elections. But for others, it is a siren-call to be feared, as the president promises handcuffs for all who are caught foul of the law — especially for corrupt high-ups. Peter-John Pearson, priest-director of the SACBC’s Parliamentary Liaison Office unpacks the president’s message.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last evening. It turned out to be probably the longest SONA in recent times, with an estimated 9000 words. 

In a wide ranging speech he announced the date for the general election, 8 May 2019, turned up the heat significantly on the fight against corruption and dealt with the issue of Eskom with a sense of urgency.

He also touched on the issue of the intelligence services where he promised to restore the integrity of these organs and their main task of protecting the people of South Africa and not any party political official.

He called on political party leaders by name to work together to help the country shoulder the many challenges it faces. And in the words of Theodore Roosevelt exhorted all South Africans to be in the arena making their contribution.

If the person in the arena fails, at least he fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

 In some ways the speech was also a report back on some of the promises he made in his first SONA, especially with regard to the various summits he had promised and very specially the job summit.

He shared figures around promised investment, the potential for jobs coming off the back of these promises and some new game changes such as TOTAL’s further exploration of gas in the Outeniqua Basin.

If indeed these promises materialise it will change South Africa’s medium and long term future significantly. But at present they remain promises.

He pointed to changes in boards and restructuring of SOEs. While he mentioned no names yet, anyone listening would acknowledge that there have been changes in the chairs of SAA, Prasa, Transnet, Eskom, the Hawks and the NDPP. All of them significant and not without political consequences for Ramaphosa. Not a mean achievement in 12 months

The unbundling of Eskom while not quite the privatisation that many either hoped for or feared, into three utilities: generation, transmission and distribution. This restructuring of the business will effectively allow each section to identify and reassess critical areas and enable them to more easily fundraise for specific needs.

Trade Union representatives expressed themselves wary of this move by the national power producer because of potential job losses. The President spoke of Eskom “as being in crises and posing great risks to SA”.

This step will not have all out favour even within his own party and the alliance. Therefore his having made it must show the desperation of the situation.

There can be little doubt that in the present political environment the issue of corruption is the yardstick by which the health of our democracy is being assessed.

The President’s words were bold.

He strengthened the arm of the NDPP by giving them investigative and prosecutorial resources both from within and outside of government — thus, according to many commentators, he basically restored the Scorpions.

He used the “jail” word, invoked the dictum of “without fear or favour” and asked people to assist the various commissions in their work.

While the President did not repeat the now famous “nine wasted years” phrase which he used at Davos, he reverted several times to the damage which corruption had done to the country. He underlined that the country was “emerging from a period of uncertainty and a loss of confidence and trust.”

In large measure Ramaphosa refrained from simply using the SONA as a crude election campaign speech. He frequently appealed for all to play their part and in doing so recaptured the sentiments of unity that framed his campaign leading up to Nasrec.

The elephant in the room however is that for all the integrity which ran through the speech, he is still limited by the considerable push back against him and his cleaning up project, within his own fractious party. And is stymied by an often weak and incapacitated state.

One has to hope that things will be different after 8 May 2019.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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“You, watch this space!” — promises and warnings in Ramaphosa’s SONA2019

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