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Taking stock of the SONA 2022 promises

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Picture: Jaco Marais/South African Pool – The 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was delivered by president Cyril Ramaphosa in the Cape Town City Hall. The SONA had to be moved to the Cape Town City Hall after a fire on 2 January 2022 destroyed a large part of the Parliamentary buildings including the National Assembly.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

On 9 February 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA). As is the norm, he will make many promises about what government is going to do.

But, to what extent has the President delivered on the promises he made during his 2022 SONA?

A quick reflection on this question will paint a better picture on the extent to which the President could be trusted on the 2023 SONA promises.

In 2022, Ramaphosa highlighted five priority areas that his government was going to focus on. These areas included the following: overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic; a massive rollout of infrastructure; a substantial increase in local production; an employment stimulus to increase jobs and support livelihoods; and the rapid expansion of the energy generation capacity.

In this article, I will reflect on these promises in no particular order.

Energy is currently at the centre of any discussion in South Africa. Intermittent power cuts have become a menace, to say the least. Coming from the lower levels of load shedding, the country is now switching from Stages 4, 5 and 6. Whenever stages 2 and 3 kick in, they are short-lived. This leads to the conclusion that the situation has worsened instead of improving. This situation has been compounded by a number of factors. Among them is mixed messaging by Eskom and government officials as well as a lack of transparency on what the real challenges are.

During his 2022 SONA, the President promised that renewable energy production would make electricity cheaper and more dependable. He made reference to green hydrogen and such related measures that were going to be implemented in order to ease the pressure on South Africans. The opposite has happened. Electricity supply has actually become more and more unreliable. Recently, NERSA announced that it has given Eskom the green light to hike the electricity tariffs by 18.65% effective from April 2023. This is the direct opposite of what the President had promised last year.

Other promises such as improvements in the maintenance of the various plants, implementation of the Electricity Regulation Act, unbundling of Eskom, etc. have all amounted to nothing. As things stand, there is now talk about the prospects of loadshedding continuing for over two years. This paints a gloomy picture and points to the reality that the 2022 SONA promises have failed.

Linked to this point is the country’s economy. Unless the electricity challenge is addressed, the logical conclusion is that this will continue to have a ripple effect on the country’s economy and hinder local production. Some businesses are forced to close down. Recently, one poultry farmer reported that 11500 of his chickens died due to load shedding – amounting to over R4 million loss. How many such business people are being affected by these ongoing electricity cuts?

The ramification of a slow-growing economy and the closure of local businesses is that the unemployment rate has remained above 30%. The promise of an employment stimulus to create jobs and support livelihoods was a good gesture. However, the positive impact of this initiative is only discernible in official government reports but cannot be seen on the ground.

Under infrastructure, the President promised that 95 bridges a year would be built compared to 14 per year. Not surprisingly, this was applauded by many South Africans. A year later, the question becomes: how many of those bridges have actually been built? Recent rains in various provinces have laid to bare the plight of young and old who have to risk their lives crossing flooded rivers (sometimes crocodile-infested) for different purposes such as going to school, work, etc.

In the health sector, many promises have been made in the past. The 2022 SONA was no exception. Yet again, the promise of universal health coverage for everyone regardless of their ability to pay was made. The imminent introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) was once again announced as has been the case before. To this day, such a promise has not come to fruition.

On the issue of service delivery, the President committed that this would be accelerated. He promised that public service would be professionalised. In this regard, the President undertook that tighter measures in the recruitment of public servants would be introduced.

Importantly, lifestyle audits would be intensified to ensure that public servants lived within their means.

In retrospect, these measures have not yet produced the intended results. Had they succeeded, the DA would have not approached the court complaining about the cadre deployment policy of the ANC. While I disagree with the DA’s approach, this does not nullify the genuine concern that the party has. Ironically, it is the DA at Umngeni Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal and the IFP in several municipalities in the same province that has taken steps to professionalise the public service. They did this by ensuring that people who are appointed to work for municipalities are appointed on merits and that they are made permanent employees.

On the issue of crime, the President was clear about the need to re-establish Community Policing Forums (CPFs). The extent to which this promise has been kept remains debatable.

Yes, some attempts have been made but the process has not moved at the expected pace in order to guarantee positive outcomes.

Crime statistics are still unacceptably high. This can be gleaned from the reports of the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele. For example, during the second quarter of the 2022/2023 financial year, no less than 7004 people were reported to have been murdered in South Africa.

This marked an increase of 841 people compared to the same period in 2021. An upward trajectory is not what one would have expected after the President had promised that crime would be dealt with.

Regarding rape cases, only Mpumalanga Province recorded a reduction in rape cases. All other provinces saw an increase in such cases. In total, no less than 10 000 rape cases were investigated by the South African Police Service (SAPS). This number excludes many other incidents that were not reported for one reason or another. The Minister reported that contact crime increased by 18.5%. Such increases were also reported in other categories of crime. Therefore, the government failed in this area too.

Of the five priority areas enumerated at the beginning of this article, the one area where the government somewhat delivered was in “overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.” With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to argue that the government could have handled COVID-19 better. In this regard, the argument would be that as soon as the first case was reported in KwaZulu-Natal, the government should have closed the borders. But such a step might have been viewed by some as being too drastic while being hailed by others as a proactive decision.

What leads to the conclusion that the government performed better in overcoming COVID-19 is the fact that although the lockdowns were implemented late, they somewhat saved many lives which could have been lost. It is true that South Africa recorded many deaths. However, compared to other countries, the figure was not that high. Another positive thing is that the rate of vaccination increased, albeit slower than expected. Reaching population immunity came as a result of concerted efforts led by the government. Therefore, one could argue that this priority area was achieved.

Given this reflection on the 2022 SONA, a few things come to mind. Firstly, it is important for the President to begin his 2023 SONA by reminding the nation about what his promises were in 2022. In this regard, he should be able to reiterate his five priority areas and do a self- assessment on how the government performed on each of them. Where the government failed to deliver on the promise made, the President should be able to provide reasons. Importantly, he should be able to indicate to the nation if he still plans to try and implement these priorities and, if so, indicate the new strategies that he plans to employ.

When making new promises for the year ahead, the President should be realistic. It would not be wise to make a long list of promises which are not achievable. In fact, the reality is that of all the promises that the President will make, none of them will be kept unless the energy crisis is addressed. So, if there is one thing that the President needs to focus on in his 2023 SONA, it is the issue of electricity. This will need honesty and rationality.

One temptation that the President must avoid is to make too many promises with the hope that people will believe him and vote for the ANC in 2024. Between the SONA in February and the end of the year in 2023, people will have had enough time to assess the President in terms of his delivery rate. If they conclude that he has not lived up to his promise, it does not matter how good the promises look on paper. What matters most are the results.