The first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the sixth Parliament was debated in a joint sitting of the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Province (NCOP) where MPs (Members of Parliament) and councillors from the South African Local Government Association (Salga) had an opportunity to respond to the President’s announced plans to grow the economy in the next five years.

During his SONA, President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined government plans to grow the economy and address the country’s social ills, and while his pronouncements received commendation from his ruling party, opposition MPs were not impressed, some labelling the speech as “high on vision and low on detail”.

As per tradition of Parliament during SONA debates, the discussion was opened by the Chief Whip of the majority party, Ms Pemmy Majodina, who said the debate was an opportunity by the governing party to set the tone for the next five years

“We must assert quite early that this is a new term and that, while there is continuity in many respects, there will be change,” she said.

The ANC’s Chief Whip also acknowledged that the biggest challenge facing the country in the sixth Administration was the lack of economic growth.

“The economy has not growing at the rate that is required to address all the social needs of our people. Unemployment remains high, particularly among the youth. Our country endures unacceptable income and wealth inequalities. It is therefore in the interest of all South Africans that we take decisive measures to deal with poverty, unemployment and widening inequality in our country.

“The President has highlighted the government’s commitment to place research and evidence at the centre of policy making and implementation. In this regard, as Parliament, we also need to adopt scientific methods in order to analyse with greater precision how people benefit from government’s policies and programmes,” Ms Majodina said.

For the Leader of the Official Opposition, Mr Mmusi Maimane, the “true state of the nation” was “record-high unemployment, contraction of the economy by 3.2%, as well as the fall of the country’s net investment for the fifth consecutive quarter”.

“These numbers paint a picture of a country in deep, deep trouble. We no longer attract investment, which means we can’t grow the economy, which means that every month more and more South Africans join the ranks of the unemployed,” said Mr Maimane.

He suggested that the crisis facing the country could be addressed through a comprehensive plan, which he said the President’s speech lacked.

“This is a crisis for us, but I believe we can turn it around if we act now, our priority should be to fix what is broken and build a South Africa where all can be guaranteed an equal opportunity, be it in the classroom, on the sports field, or in the workplace,” he said.

Reacting to one of the President’s pronouncements during SONA to build a “new smart city founded on the technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution”, Mr Maimane said South Africa does not need new cities. “We need to make our current cities smart, we must broaden access and connect all young people to the information and the opportunities that still remain available to only a few.”

He said South Africa will not see the fall of data prices until the broadband spectrum was opened, adding that the longer this was delayed, the wider the technology gap will become.

The Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Mr Julius Malema, labelled the President’s speech as “misguided, futile ideas mixed in a bag of fantasies”, and said it “did not inspire hope and confidence among the poor, young unemployed citizens”.

“We are dealing with a President without a plan to turn things around, you have no new ideas to grow the economy and create jobs, you don’t know how to fix our collapsed healthcare system with dysfunctional hospitals – you didn’t tell us how you are going to manage the economy differently from the past 25 years,” said Mr Malema.

South Africa needs more than hope in order to turn things around and grow the economy, according to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

“We need more than hope, we need economic growth and we need it now, we need solutions now – this is not the time to dream – how will you half or eradicate violent crime in the next 10 years? We can’t wait for 10 years when people are dying,” he said.

He also warned that the President’s dream will come to a nought as a result of failure by government officials to comply with the Public Finance Management Act.

Rev Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party welcomed the President’s reassurance that government will not interfere with the constitutional mandate of the South African Reserve Bank, which is to protect the value of the currency in the interest of balanced and sustainable growth.

“We encourage the President to be resolute in his defence of the independence of the Reserve Bank and to ignore those who are calling for its nationalisation,” he said.

By Sakhile Mokoena
25 June 2019