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NGOs, political parties slam Ramaphosa’s SoNA's ‘empty promises’

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NGOs, political parties slam Ramaphosa’s SoNA's ‘empty promises’

Image of Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa

9th February 2024

By: Thabi Shomolekae
Creamer Media Senior Writer

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Political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2024 State of the Nation Address (SoNA), saying it is fraught with big promises that show no sign of learning from past mistakes or changing course. 

Ramaphosa delivered his eighth SoNA on Thursday evening at the Cape Town City Hall.

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Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa had not kept any of his promises made in his previous SoNAs and that he had not tabled any pragmatic, workable legislation to realise his ‘New Dawn’.

Steenhuisen stated that the South African economy had all but flatlined, with no new jobs, worsened corruption and crime, and millions of starving children.

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He noted that 30 years of African National Congress (ANC) national government had caused the country’s economy to stagnate and had led to significant fiscal restraint – “an environment in which the ANC is now pursuing desperate and populist measures such as tapping into the Gold and Foreign Exchange Contingency Reserve Account of the Reserve Bank, essentially killing any economic buffer for the country against unforeseen external market shocks,” he stated.

Steenhuisen said a looming tax hike under the ANC would be the final nail in the coffin for millions of South African households struggling to put food on the table.

He said South Africa needed a complete reprioritisation of its national Budget that cut away Cabinet perks and a bloated public wage bill, and that redirected money towards paying better social grants that met the food poverty line, fixed the electricity crisis by embracing privatisation, invested in education, and embraced policies that liberated the economy to fast-track growth and job creation.

NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE

In his speech, Ramaphosa noted that government was planning to incrementally implement the controversial National Health Insurance (NHI), the Bill for which awaits his signature.

The DA said that by embracing the NHI Bill, Ramaphosa was taking a wrecking ball to the country’s public health system, driving skilled doctors and medical personnel from the country, and killing South Africa’s status as a world leader in healthcare innovation.

He said the NHI could be pushed through Parliament when government could afford to employ and place the country’s existing graduate doctors.

“Furthermore, we cannot embrace NHI when the ANC cannot even feed our children. According to the Eastern Cape Department of Health, 1 722 children under the age of five in the province were newly diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition between August 2022 and September 2023. Of these, 114 have died,” said Steenhuisen.

Civil rights interest group AfriForum highlighted that Ramaphosa’s “search for a pen” to sign the impugned NHI Bill was a shameful attempt to use the false promise of better health care to win a few votes.

Solidarity said it considered the promise of “free healthcare” to be another empty promise but one with very serious consequences.

“It is clear that the government, regardless of their hopeless track record, is appropriating even more power for itself. This is taking place while South Africans actually need the federal devolution of power to communities,” it said.

STATE CAPTURE, CORRUPTION AND CRIME

ActionSA president Herman Mashaba said the SoNA was a “political sleight of hand”, where Ramaphosa appropriated the progress of the ruling party made under Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki while distancing himself from its failures and corruption during President Jacob Zuma’s State Capture era.

He said South Africans struggling with unemployment, rampant crime, and continuous rolling blackouts “know the truth that belies this rhetoric”.

“The reality outside the Ramaverse is that the President’s superficial, low-impact interventions have done little to demonstrate real accountability for corruption, address rolling blackouts, improve educational outcomes, or grow our job-killing economy,” said Mashaba.

He said it was deeply ironic that Ramaphosa commended the efforts to fight corruption while being applauded by the same ruling party that was widely complicit in State Capture.

“This is an insult to South Africa’s collective memory: Ramaphosa was no innocent bystander during the Zuma administration, he was central to the Executive. While State Capture might look different now, grand corruption - seen once again during the Covid-19 pandemic - is still rife under Ramaphosa’s presidency,” added Mashaba.

He explained that while acknowledging progress in the war against crime, the prevalence of violent crime had increased during Ramaphosa's tenure, saying the increase in the policing budget and deployment of additional police personnel had yielded no results, and instead, an average of 75 people were killed in South Africa every day, compared with 57 at the start of Ramaphosa’s presidency in 2018.

Despite the President’s repeated promises to act against State capture, Mashaba said that the National Prosecuting Authority had failed to successfully prosecute any high-profile case while the Independent Directorate has still not been made permanent. 

‘OBVIOUS EMPTY PROMISES’

AfriForum noted that Ramaphosa’s SoNA was littered with a series of “manipulated figures, facts and lies by omission” presented in an attempt to polish the image of the ANC after its 30-year rule.

It said Ramaphosa’s reference to “so-called” achievements in combating crime, reducing loadshedding and successes in education, was a “pitiful denial” of the way in which government is failing citizens.

In his address, Ramaphosa said that over the last three decades, government had been striving to achieve a national democratic society.

“We have cast off the tyranny of apartheid and built a democratic State based on the will of the people. We have established strong institutions to protect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all people. We have transformed the lives of millions of South Africans, provided the necessities of life and created opportunities that never existed before,” he stated.

Ramaphosa claimed that government had enabled a diverse economy whose minerals, agricultural products and manufactured goods reached every corner of the world, while creating jobs in South Africa.

AfriForum head of public relations Ernst van Zyl countered that the staggering levels of unemployment, school dropouts, poor school performance and the murder rate cannot be explained away with “clever political talk”.

He added that the 2024 SoNA once again showed that the centralised government and the “ideologically driven” ANC were South Africa’s main problems.

He said the only possible solution to the current situation was devolution of power to a community level.

“AfriForum, therefore, encourages communities to become more self-sufficient and independent from the State. With over 170 neighbourhood and farm watches, more than 160 branches nationwide, and tens of thousands of volunteers on community level, AfriForum is lighting the way for fresh, alternative solutions,” said Van Zyl.

Solidarity, meanwhile, said that the “false hope” in Ramaphosa’s SoNA epitomized the “cruel contempt” with which the ANC government deceived South Africans.

Solidarity said it considered Ramaphosa’s “obvious empty promises”, and the failure to mention the endless flaws at almost every level of the public service, as malicious dishonesty with the aim of misleading voters before the upcoming national and provincial election.

SOCIAL SECURITY OVERHAUL

GOOD secretary-general and MP Brett Herron said his party was disappointed with Ramaphosa’s SoNA as it did not make commitments for a social security overhaul.

Herron highlighted that ⁠⁠basic income support was the foundation for a stable and effective economy that was characterised also by a green economy, high-speed rail, water infrastructure upgrades and effective logistics infrastructure programmes.

He said that a sophisticated economy could not be built on an unstable social structure.

“We lament that the President’s speech fell short of formally announcing a Basic Income Grant. The R350 monthly payment to millions of the country’s most marginal citizens is an indignity when you consider it’s less than half the amount of money that the government says people need to feed themselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, Herron said that there had been undeniable progress in the form of subsidised housing, connections to basic services, social grants, and access to education and healthcare.

He commended Ramaphosa for upholding the values of the Constitution as the blueprint for the country’s national ideals.

“We need capable and ethical leadership to make the constitutional principles real for all, not the regression of reverting to past battlelines that some opposition parties are proposing,” he proposed.

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