President Cyril Ramaphosa was heavily criticised for using the closing section of his June 20 State of the Nation Address (SoNA) to outline an aspirational vision for South Africa.
As part of his ‘dream’, the President envisioned a new smart city “with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories”. The Twitterati were quick to deride the idea by labelling it ‘Wakanda’, after the fictional African city portrayed in the popular Black Panther comic books and movie.
Such cynicism is understandable, particularly in light of the grime and crime currently corroding many of South Africa’s urban centres and where rejuvenation efforts are either sorely absent or mired in corruption. Even Ramaphosa’s allies were left cold, as epitomised by the reaction of Business Unity South Africa, which lamented the absence of “real implementation plans” and “detail”.
In fact, the SoNA is not really a platform for providing detail on how every societal problem is to be solved. Yes, it should inform citizens about the broad direction of travel and provide a high-level outline of the plans for tackling the country’s key challenges. However, its main purpose is, in fact, to inspire.
As the fiftieth anniversary of the historic July 20, 1969, moon landing draws closer, it is only natural to juxtapose Ramaphosa’s address with that of American President John F Kennedy’s ‘We choose to go to the moon’ speech, delivered on May 25, 1961. Despite Kennedy’s assassination a little over two years later, his demand that the mission be accomplished “before this decade is out” became an almost immutable deadline for those involved in the space programme.
So why did Ramaphosa’s attempt at inspiration fall so flat?
The main reason is a lack of trust. For far too long, the gap between what South African politicians say and what they actually do has been wide enough for a 110-m-long Saturn V rocket, lying horizontal to the ground, to be driven through.
If our politicians say, for instance, that the Integrated Resource Plan for electricity will be updated and approved “imminently”, such approval should take place within weeks – instead, it’s been nearly a year. Likewise, if an auction of spectrum is promised, but no bidding process is forthcoming, surely investor appetite will be undermined.
If a R100-billion infrastructure fund is proposed in September 2018 and no such fund is established by June the following year, weariness will set in. And, if visa rules are identified as a serious constraint to tourism, yet the changes implemented are half-hearted, how is it possible to expect a significant recovery in tourist numbers?
South Africans need visible signs that their political leaders say what they mean, and mean what they say. Only then will it be possible for us to dream big again!