By SA News
By Sihle Manda
A popular idiom speaks of how it is darkest before dawn envelopes. It’s an expression of hope. It inspires the afflicted to persevere as reprieve looks to be on the horizon.
The build up to the 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was characterised by uncertainty and confusion. It was open heart surgery – touch and go – but necessary.
The chaos had stemmed from the governing party – the African National Congress (ANC) – recalling former President Jacob Zuma and opposition parties threatening to disrupt proceedings on 8 February. Two days before the sitting, Parliament’s presiding officers, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise, announced the postponement of the SONA.
Zuma resigned on 15 February, paving the way for President Cyril Ramaphosa to address a joint house sitting the next day.
In his over 5 100 odd word speech, Ramaphosa gripped the nation with a captivating oratory that reignited the country’s dwindling prospects.
With the South African economy battered by stagnation and relative regression, President Ramaphosa’s inaugural SONA had to inspire. And that it did. Instead of the event descending into violent scenes from the opposition benches, as it had become custom in the fifth administration, President Ramaphosa’s SONA was unequivocally embraced by the House.
The President spoke of how 2018 would be the year of change and renewal and to reinforce the Government’s “commitment to ethical behaviour and ethical leadership” that had been steadily eroded over the years. Initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation were also high up on the President’s agenda for the year.
In this regard, President Ramaphosa in March launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative which placed unemployed youth in paid internships in companies.
According to reports, the YES initiative found work opportunities for 4 600 youth in 2018. The initiative creates a 12 month paid position for youth between the ages of 18 and 35 with a minimum stipend of R3 500.
During his SONA address, the President spoke of how since the fifth administration, 3.2 million work opportunities through public employment programmes were created, adding that more was being done.
“Government’s free basic services programme currently supports more than 3.5 million indigent households,” he said. “More than 17 million social grants are paid each month, benefiting nearly a third of the population.”
With business and labour confidence having taken a major dent and the South African investment rating under constant threats of a downgrade, Ramaphosa later announced drastic measures to boost market confidence.
At the centre of our national agenda in 2018 is the creation of jobs, especially for the youth. In October, as outlined in SONA, the Presidency hosted a Jobs Summit as part of measures aimed at addressing souring unemployment statistics.
Agreements reached at the Jobs Summit included initiatives that would lead to the creation of 275 000 jobs a year.
The summit also explored what needed to be done to revive South Africa’s lagging economy and ignite investments. This mission was reiterated during the three-day inaugural South African Investment Conference later that month, as indicated in SONA. The aim of the Investment Conference was to target domestic and international investors and to market the compelling investment opportunities to be found in our country.
South Africa Investment Conference
The inaugural South Africa Investment Conference has secured nearly R290 billion worth of investment announcements for the country.
The investments were a culmination of a six-month investment drive by the four envoys tasked with globetrotting in search of over R1.2 trillion worth of investments over the next five years.
Former Finance Minister Trevor Manual, Former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, businesswoman Phumzile Langeni as well as retired banker, Jacko Maree, form part of the team of envoys searching for investors with deep pockets. Presidential economic advisor Trudi Makhaya is also part of the team.
In September, President Ramaphosa had outlined a stimulus package with which government sought to boost the country’s sluggish economy. With the package, the President said, government announced the immediate prioritisation of infrastructure – through the establishment of the South Africa Infrastructure Fund. It was announced that about R400 billion will be channelled to the Infrastructure Fund.
During 2018, the President Ramaphosa-led administration also saw government make well on the SONA promise to accelerate the land redistribution programme as the country sought to redress historical injustices and bring producers into the agricultural sector.
A majority of Members of Parliament in November voted for the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution that will see land expropriated without compensation. The development was a culmination of public consultation where oral and written submissions were made.
In November, in a move that was widely commended, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the much anticipated National Minimum Wage Bill. The bill now sees workers earn a minimum of R3 500 per month in an effort to uplift low income earning workers.
Digital Industrial Revolution Commission
During SONA, the President announced a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, which will include the private sector and civil society, would be established. This would be to ensure that the country is in a position to seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology.
“We will finalise our engagements with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition and reduces the cost to consumers,” President Ramaphosa said in his address.
In December, invited nominations were asked for members to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Fee Free Higher Education programme phased in 2018 also saw Government roll out the phasing in of fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans over a five-year period.
First year students from households with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000 were the beneficiaries.
Still on the question of education, the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative programme continued to deliver modern facilities to schools in rural and underprivileged urban areas across the country, with at least 187 schools being completed at the time.
Health system resuscitation
On issues plaguing the country’s health system, the President in his SONA announced South Africa’s first Presidential Health Summit. Here government, academics and civil organisations gathered to deliberate on how to rescue the flailing system.
Tabling the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said Government would reprioritise funds to make R350 million available to recruit over 2000 new health professionals. A further R150 million was set aside for the purchase of beds and linen for hospitals.
In his address, the President said Government would take further measures to ensure that all state-owned entities (SOEs) companies fulfil their economic and developmental mandates. This followed an earlier move by Ramaphosa, then as Deputy President, to appoint a new board at the beleaguered power utility, Eskom. The move was followed by the appointment of a new board at Transnet, another strife besieged SOE. In November, a National Treasury forensic report made damning findings against former executives and board members of the two entities. The contents of the report is believed to be a subject of a Hawks investigation.
“We will need to confront the reality that the challenges at some of our SOEs are structural – that they do not have a sufficient revenue stream to fund their operational costs,” President Ramaphosa said during SONA.
Chief among the President’s priorities continued to bear fruit as he continued to make good on his word to tackle and rid the state of blemishes of fraud and corruption. This much is evident as three critical commissions of inquiry play themselves out, as promised on 16 February 2018.
The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture headed by the Deputy Chief Justice, Judge Raymond Zondo, commenced its function in August.
“The Commission is critical to ensuring that the extent and nature of state capture is established, that confidence in public institutions is restored and that those responsible for any wrongdoing are identified,” the President said. “The Commission should not displace the regular work of the country’s law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting any and all acts of corruption.”
The Commission of Inquiry into allegations of impropriety at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), headed by Former President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Lex Mpati began on 21 January.
In October last year, the President also announced the suspension with immediate effect of Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Adv. Nomgcobo Jiba and Special Director of Public Prosecutions Adv. Lawrence MrwebI.
At the time, the President also informed the advocates of his decision to institute inquiries into their fitness to hold office. On Monday, the Justice Yvonne Mokgoro inquiry into the fitness of both advocates got underway. Meanwhile, President Ramaphosa in November announced advocate Shamila Batohi as the new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). She replaced advocate Shaun Abrahams who the Constitutional Court three months earlier declared his appointment as “invalid and unconstitutional”.
“We will urgently attend to the leadership issues at the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that this critical institution is stabilised and able to perform its mandate unhindered,” said the President in the State of the Nation Address.
At the time he also announced steps to stabilise the South African Revenue Service. True to his word, SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane was placed on suspension but later fired. Moyane was dismissed in November 2018 following a recommendation by the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into the governance of the revenue service and tax administration.
As South Africans reflect on 2018, a year coined the New Dawn, South Africans from all walks of life will reflect on a year the country was given for new beginnings. The results are tangible and there to catapult the Rainbow Nation to better heights.