President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assertion that his government has put in place capable leadership at previously captured state-owned entities and public institutions was met with derision on Wednesday during his response to the parliament debate on his State of the Nation address (Sona) last week.
“This hasn’t often been done in the past, but it is happening now,” Ramaphosa said, to jeers from some MPs. “We’ve put in place capable leadership at previously captured state owned entities and public institutions and have reversed the decay in Sars [South African Revenue Service], at the PIC [Public Investment Corporation], in Eskom, Transnet and many others. You may not agree, but that’s precisely what we’ve been doing. That, to me, is what progress looks like.”
Ramaphosa conceded that South Africa was on a long and difficult journey “to renew the promise of our democracy”, but that it is not all “doom and doom and doom and no action”.
“It may seem that the path is too long. And it may also seem like it is not achieving much. And it may also seem like the climb is too steep and that the risks are far too great. But it is at precisely that moment that courage of resilience is required,” the president said.
Responding to opposition’ parties comments over the past two days in response to last week’s address, Ramaphosa chose to focus on the forward strides he said the country had made, despite many challenges.
“It is wrong to say that there’s been no action, as a number of people who spoke here said. We have achieved remarkable progress, in spite of the constraints of the present and the challenges that have accumulated over a number of years,” he asserted.
With South Africa still in a state of disaster because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa said the country had been able to “rise up” to the challenge of the health crisis.The health department, he said, had undertaken the most extensive public campaign in the country’s history, focusing on the supply of new hospital beds to several locations and the administration of more than 30-million Covid-19 vaccine doses.
On prosecuting corruption
Ramaphosa reiterated his stance that he was not not responsible for prosecuting those implicated in state capture or corruption at state entities.
“It is not within the power of the president — and it shouldn’t be within the power of the president — to initiate criminal proceedings against anyone. And I have said this repeatedly, both here and elsewhere: that I am not the one who initiates criminal proceedings. That is the sole responsibility of the relevant director of public prosecutions,” he said.
All the state was responsible for, he added, was to “capacitate” and provide the necessary resources to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to do its work.
Ramaphosa was again greeted with cynical jeers from opposition quarters when he said the state was “taking disciplinary action against government officials implicated in procurement irregularities, and has started to recover billions in looted funds.”
He said his office had strengthened the ability of the NPA to pursue individuals implicated in state capture and corruption, and cited the NPA and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) joint task force set up to deal with the first of three reports from the Zondo state capture commission.
“We are already seeing the results of a strong independent prosecuting authority in several cases as well,” Rampahosa said.
To this, several opposition legislators yelled out: “Where?”