/ 14 February 2020

Will Cyril’s Sona promises ever be fulfilled?

(Mail & Guardian)

On Thursday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the annual State of the Nation address (Sona). The speech was the fourth delivered by him since he took office after the recall of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, by the governing party.

Ramaphosa’s first Sona, in February 2018, was delayed so that, “we could properly and carefully manage issues of political transition”, thrown up by the change in the ANC leadership and Zuma’s recall.

In it, Ramaphosa undertook to “set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation”. His administration would, he said, “take tough decisions … to close our fiscal gap, stabilise our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health”.

He pledged to place youth employment “at the centre of our national agenda”, announcing initiatives to accelerate the placement of graduates in the public and private sector and to fund tertiary education.

The president did not stop there. Declaring his administration’s commitment to clean governance, Ramaphosa announced that “this is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions”.

Ramaphosa said whereas the Zondo commission, then about to start its work, would provide a window into the extent of state capture, the institutions of criminal justice would “deal effectively with corruption”.

“The commission should not displace the regular work of the country’s law enforcement agencies in investigation and prosecuting any and all acts of corruption,’’ the president said.

The speech, in which Ramaphosa famously quoted Bra Hugh Masekela and his call to Thuma Mina, set the tone for a new style of leadership from his administration: good governance, policy certainty and action against corruption, all promised as hallmarks of the years to come.

Riding a wave of popularity that came with his ascension to the ANC presidency and the hope of life post Zuma, Ramaphosa promised governing party unity and committed to turning South Africa’s fortunes around.

Ramaphosa delivered two state of the nation addresses in 2019, one in February, and the second in June, after the national and provincial elections.

Both were, like that of 2018, laden with promise — and promises: broad statements of intent which undertook to create jobs, end corruption and improve fiscal discipline.

In February, the president undertook to take steps to double the number of jobs created every year, committed his administration to job creation; improving education and living conditions; building state capacity to deliver services to the public and upping the ante in the fight against corruption.

Four months later, in his third Sona, Ramaphosa flagged the same issues — along with consolidating the social wage and promoting social cohesion — throwing in the creation of “a better Africa and world’’ for good measure as an action plan for the year. The speech was, again, replete with promises and calls for patience, support and patriotism but, sadly, nothing about checklisting progress which had been made in implementing the action plan of his first Sona. Or the second.

Most of the promises of all three Sonas remain unfulfilled.

Ramaphosa’s administration, paralysed by infighting within the governing party and the fightback by his predecessor’s allies inside and outside government, has been unable to move far beyond the point it reached in early 2018.

Although the Zondo commission has lifted the lid on the extent of state capture, precious little else has happened to ensure that those responsible for looting the state and its public entities are jailed and the billions that have been looted from the fiscus are recovered.

The culture of impunity still prevails among the predatory elite, despite the daily disclosures of their complicity, with the criminal justice system seemingly unable — or unwilling — to deal with them. Governance continues to falter, with the vast majority of the country’s municipalities dysfunctional and unable to deliver on their mandates.

The policy uncertainty generated by the fightback, with economic transformation being conflated with the defence of Zuma, has worsened the jobs bloodbath and continues to strangle investment. That bloodbath rises daily, with no apparent answer forthcoming from any of the succession of Sonas.

Ramaphosa’s fourth Sona was little of a departure from the first three. An unfortunate exercise in more of the same.

Then again, it was never going to be more than that.

Ramaphosa still lacks the muscle and authority to act decisively within his party and government and take the hard decisions that he needs to take.

Four Sonas on, he is still to enforce his will upon the governing party and the state.

The wave of goodwill that his first Sona generated is drying up. Swiftly.

He needs to act before it dries up for good.