A VIEW OF THE WEEK: ‘Ill’ Ramaphosa’s Sona was a prescription for a sketchy future and false reality

2094 is calling… or is it 1994?


It may be best to avoid friends and family this weekend.

Not because of anything political or because the weather might be rubbish, but because there is a “bacterial infection” on the loose.

That’s what my doctor says, and he is right: everyone has it.

Even the president, apparently.

That would explain the brain fog that must have clouded Cyril Ramaphosa when trying to reflect on the successes of his government during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday. The fog must also be why he defaulted to memories of post-apartheid euphoria and fever dreams of a futuristic South Africa.

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His critics have in the hours since his speech also suggested he may have been hallucinating when giving an example of government’s progress through the life of “Tintswalo” – the fictional character who was housed, fed, and educated by the state until she lived “a better life”.

The part that Ramaphosa will have missed is that one Tintswalo doesn’t make a summer.

While there are no doubt real-life people who have had such an experience, the reality is that they are the exception and not the rule.

Anecdotes are convincing, but facts are stronger. These tell us that for every three pupils that start school in Grade 1, one will drop out. Nearly one in 10 beneficiaries of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) of which Tintswalo was a part, won’t be funded in the next academic year. Nearly two in three young people in South Africa do not have a job.

While Ramaphosa is right to reflect on the services provided to South Africans over the last 30 years, he should not use these as a badge of honour and progress. Progress is expected when in power and with access to over R1.5 billion a year in revenue.

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The government is not a charity that gives when it can and we grateful beggars take the scraps it offers. As Ramaphosa explained in his speech, it must defend the Constitution and “work every day to realise its promise” of basic human rights for all.

Providing food, security, education, healthcare, and many more, should be expected – not a sign of success. Its deterioration and absence, as we have unfortunately seen in the last 30 years, is the more frightening reality. In other words, we should be expecting to have better services to more people, not lesser services to sometimes more people.

Future? What future?

Ramaphosa’s grand plans for the future also seemed more wishful than based on reality, with ideas to capitalise on international conflict by offering services to re-route trade ships, introduce a high-speed train between Joburg and Durban, become a global leader in renewable energies, and embrace electric vehicle manufacturing.

These plans, if implemented, could have him remembered as the “great fixer” he seems desperate to portray; or could be a bad bet that will take another “new dawn” to recover from.

He would have done better to speak on the issues preventing his plans from happening right now, and deal with the immediate future: coalitions.

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There was no mention of possible coalitions after this year’s polls. Doing so may have come across as defeatist for the ANC but Ramaphosa, as president, needs to calm the nation’s anxieties on the possibility of a “coalition from hell” at a national level.

We need to know that there is a clear plan to avoid a much bigger and complete state capture, and deterioration of all governance.

Otherwise there may not be a future to speak about.

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