“Has the time not arrived for us to be bold and reach beyond ourselves do what may seem impossible?” mused President Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday.
The speech — nearly 90 minutes in length — was more aspirational than it was practical, with bold ideas and possibly the will of the president to match. Pulling it off however, will take a miracle.
Bullet trains to a new city inspired by China’s President Xi Jinping’s new Beijing, all formed part of his address.
Skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories would form part of this city — a dream Ramaphosa invited all to share in and become a part of building.
It is with this dream that Ramaphosa closed his address — but it opened on a more realistic note.
“The economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created. This is the concern that rises above all others. It affects everyone.”
The constraints on public finances means that the sixth administration may not be able to deliver “on everything at one time.”
But on Eskom, which is at the heart of the country’s economic woes, little more was offered than the already critical financial injection the parastatal needs.
Further interventions on the economy include “re-imagining” the country’s industrial strategy, bolstering the mining industry by developing South Africa’s minerals through “targeted” beneficiation, the creation of special economic zones, doubling international tourist arrivals to 21-million by 2030 and expanding the “high tech industry” through among others, reducing data costs.
A fresh promise is for Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the minister of communications, to issue policy direction to Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to commence the spectrum licensing process in the next month.
Ramaphosa is also intensifying his investment drive — he provided an update on the drive saying of the R300-billion investments announced, projects worth over R250-billion had entered its implementation phase. Work continued apace on the public-private growth initiative, with the private sector to invest R840-billion in 43 projects over 19 sectors, creating 155 000 jobs in the next five years.
Even Ramaphosa’s more realistic offerings on the delivery side such as swelling the police force, expanding the national youth service and accelerating the provision of “well-located” housing and land will come at a cost to the fiscus, unless budgets are reprioritised.
But at the heart of his address was a return to the blueprint for the country’s development until 2030, the national development plan (NDP).
Ramaphosa said the NDP should be “restored” to its place “at the centre of our national effort.”
The plan, while adopted by the ANC at its Mangaung conference in 2012, was swiftly abandoned during former president Jacob Zuma’s last term, as the state capture and corruption project gained momentum.
Ramaphosa’s address was anchored on seven priorities for the next five years, buttressed by a further five goals over the next decade — goals which appear almost dreamlike for a country in an economic pickle.
Themes from the NDP, the blueprint for the country’s development were common throughout his address, including a focus on climate change, leadership and responsibility from all sectors of society — down even to the roles business, civil society, labour and government should play.