Cyril Ramaphosa’s seemingly more business-friendly State of the Nation (Sona) address has resulted in opposition parties agreeing that the president’s inability to use his cabinet to implement change remains a hindrance to growth and stability.
Although Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen commended Ramaphosa for turning to the private sector for job creation, he expressed doubt about whether the president could deliver on his promises.
“[H]e has made the right noises in the past too, only to go missing when they had to be implemented. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so we caution all South Africans to hold the applause until these announcements become actions, if they ever do.”
Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa’s departure from a long-held ANC standpoint that the government must be the vehicle to drive the economy made it sound as if he had taken a leaf from the DA’s book on how to get things done.
“He is entirely correct in this new assessment. But until he walks the walk by significantly reforming labour legislation and by downsizing his bloated public sector with its thousands of millionaire managers, that will just remain talk.”
Steenhuisen said the DA had been preaching for years that South Africa’s regulations for the private sector were unduly complicated, costly, difficult to comply with, and thus prevented businesses from growing and creating jobs.
“If the president is serious about streamlining bureaucracy, he should send some of his ministers to the Western Cape on internships,” he quipped.
“His announcement of a separate electricity transmission entity, part of the break-up of Eskom, is also something we have been calling for for many years. So, too, his solemn promise to finally auction off broadband spectrum, which has made an appearance in every Sona of recent years. And his announcement that labour legislation for SMEs [small and medium enterprises] will be relaxed must certainly be welcomed.”
Ramaphosa emphasised the need to cut red tape to enable a more business friendly environment. “There are too many regulations in this country that are unduly complicated, costly and difficult to comply with. This prevents companies from growing and creating jobs,” said the president.
Improvement of the business environment would now sit within the presidency, he said, with former Exxaro chief executive Sipho Nkosi appointed to lead the “red tape team”.
Ramaphosa made it clear early in his speech that it was not the government’s role to create jobs, and later said: “We know, however, that even with the best business environment and much faster rates of economic growth, it will take time for the private sector to create enough jobs for the millions of South Africans who need them. Our intent is to leave no one behind. That is why we are expanding public and social employment [through the Presidential Employment Stimulus programmes].”
United Democratic Movement chief whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said the president’s speech showed a shift towards DA policy and contained various contradictions. On the one hand, he said, Ramaphosa highlighted the importance of the state in creating a conducive environment for business to thrive and create growth and employment, but on the other hand, he lauded a developmental state.
“The two can’t coexist. It’s either you have a developmental state that intervenes decisively on the economy, or you want to serve the role of a meet-and-greet for the financial institution, where all that you do is show people where consultants are seated.”
Nkwankwa added that for the state to drive development, there needed to be decisive intervention with the goal of building a capable state.
Mkhuleko Hlengwa, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s spokesperson and the standing committee on public accounts chairperson, said Ramaphosa’s speech made it clear that he was dealing with an incompetent cabinet. There was a trust deficit between the president’s announcements and the government’s deliverables, he said.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema said the speech was an indication that the president was failing to deliver on the ANC manifesto of job creation and an indication he had no confidence in the ability of his ministers and those in top positions at public entities who had been placed there with the blessing of the governing party.
“If you look at the approach of state-owned enterprises it’s clear that it’s being outsourced. Nothing was said about the high levels of crime in South Africa, the cash-in-transit heists and violent crime and rape that is taking place on our country. No emphasis on how we are going to deal with that.
“The state of education and its infrastructure, the clinics and hospitals that have collapsed … The president has got no commitment about this. Nothing on international relations …”
The country was on auto-pilot, said Malema, and the only remedy was for Ramaphosa and his cabinet to resign.