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President Ramaphosa inspires in maiden State of the Nation Address
February 18, 2018, 9:22 am

“Send me” is his call as he invokes the legacies of South African icons Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Hugh Masikela

Ceremonial parade ahead of the State of the Nation Address in South Africa, February 16, 2018 [GCIS]

As analysts told The BRICS Post in mid-December, the recall of President Jacob Zuma by the African National Congress (ANC) will be the first test of its new leader, Cyril Ramaphosa.

This was not easily accomplished and it took a postponement of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) from February 8 to February 16 and the threat of a no confidence motion in Parliament, before disgraced former President Jacob Zuma heeded the call of the party he had given his life to and resigned close to midnight on Valentine’s Day.

Cyril Ramaphosa was then elected President by Parliament the following day and in his maiden SONA, Ramaphosa reminded the world that both Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu would have celebrated their 100th birthday this year.

“This Address should have been delivered last week, but was delayed so that we could properly manage issues of political transition. I wish to thank Honourable Members and the people of South Africa for their patience and forbearance,” he said in his opening remarks.

“In celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela we are not merely honouring the past, we are building the future,” he continued.

Radio commentator Chris Gibbons told The BRICS Post in December that it was too early to tell what the impact of a Ramaphosa Presidency would be on South Africa, although he noted that financial markets had taken a very positive view of his election victory.

“It’s far too early to tell what the Ramaphosa victory means, particularly because of the ‘hung’ nature of the ANC’s Top Six. If he can achieve the recall of Zuma before February’s State of the Nation speech, along with the installation of a new finance minister, South Africa will be pointing in the right direction,” Gibbons said.

Nelson Mandela University Business School Professor Chris Adendorff was equally optimistic when he spoke to The BRICS Post.

“All in all I am very excited about what lies ahead and we will shortly see a surge of new investors and countries ready to assist South Africa out of deep waters,” he said.

Renewed economic spirit

The rand has been the best performing currency in the world against the US dollar over the past few months as it strengthened by more than a quarter (26 per cent) from R14.57 per US dollar on November 13 to R11.56 on February 16, 2018.

In the first six weeks of this year, foreigners bought a net R16.8 billion ($1.45 billion) worth of South African equities compared with net sales of R22.1 billion ($1.9 billion) in the same period last year.

In his SONA Ramaphosa gave a set of targets that he wanted to achieve so that there would be no further ratings downgrades and economic growth would go back to the 5 per cent plus growth rates of Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.

The list is fairly extensive as the recent erratic and irrational behaviour of Zuma cost South African equity investors almost R2 trillion ($172 billion) in lost wealth according to equity analyst Ryk de Klerk,  if one compares the rating of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange before Zuma fired respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015 and its recent rating.

The number one priority is creating more jobs as South Africa’s unemployment rate is more than 26 per cent with youth unemployment near 50 per cent. To this end Ramaphosa said there will be a jobs summit this year‚ as youth unemployment‚ was “our most grave and pressing challenge”.

The recent declaration of a national drought condition has highlighted the neglect of water infrastructure projects during the Zuma years, as the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which brings much needed water from Lesotho to water-scarce South Africa, is years behind schedule. The agreement between the two countries was signed way back in 2011, yet no work has been started on the main dam and first water is only likely to flow to South Africa in 2025 rather than the original 2020.

“I will assemble a team to speed up implementation of new projects‚ particularly water projects‚ health facilities and road maintenance,” Ramaphosa said.

Focus on the mining industry

Another failure of the Zuma years has been the steady decline in the mining industry, once the bedrock of what made South Africa a great place to live in and resulted in South Africa being the top gold producer for more than a century since the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886.

South African Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Officer Roger Baxter told The BRICS Post last week that last year was the worst year for the mining industry in terms of the regulatory environment. This was due to the unilateral imposition by the South African government of the third iteration of the Mining Charter, which wiped out more than R50 billion off the market capitalisation of South African mining companies.

Ramaphosa said mining should be seen as a sunrise industry rather than a sunset industry, despite the fact that net fixed investment in the mining industry has declined by 57 per cent since 2008.

“I am certain we will be able to resolve the current impasse and agree on a mining charter that both accelerates transformation and grows this vital sector of our economy,” Ramaphosa said.

A legacy of the Zuma years has been an expanded civil service while private sector employment has been stagnant as patronage permeated the tendering and procurement practices of government at all three tiers of government as well as state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“We will initiate a process to review the configuration‚ number and size of national government departments. The recent action we have taken at Eskom to strengthen governance‚ root out corruption and restore its financial position is just the beginning,” Ramaphosa said.

At the end of his speech Ramaphosa invoked the words from Hugh Masekela’s song ‘Thuma Mina’.

“We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around. We can envisage the triumph over poverty, we can see the end of the battle against AIDS. Now is the time to lend a hand. Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’. Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all, ”Ramaphosa concluded.

Private wealth management expert Ben Pieterse told The BRICS Post that he found the speech inspiring and filled him with hope.

“What a man. A President we can be proud of. His speech was one of hope and meaning,” he said.

Helmo Preuss in Grahamstown, South Africa for The BRICS Post

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