SONA 2024: the same old story, but the EFF weren’t there to hear it

As this year’s SONA approached, everyone wondered whether President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘fellow South Africans’ would hear his entire soliloquy without the lights going out or the EFF finding a way to disrupt the proceedings — despite six of its leaders, including Julius Malema, being banned from attending. In the event, the Red Berets decided to beat a strategic retreat and ‘boycott’ the shindig entirely.

Maybe they were watching from the Saxonwold Shebeen. This is supposed to be a pun. That’s the one thing – outside of the Madiba quotes – one remembers of the whole, torturous, address, largely a regurgitation of the previous year, namely a (restated) resolve to tackle corruption. ‘We will not stop,’ the president intoned, ‘until every person responsible for corruption is held to account. We will not stop until all stolen money has been recovered. We will not stop until corruption is history.’

Seeking to show he’s no pushover, and the bad guys should fear him more than ‘Odd-Job’ Bheki Cele, the behatted minister of police, he continued: ‘Freezing orders of R14-billion have been granted to the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit for State Capture-related cases, and around R8.6-billion in corrupt proceeds have been returned to the state.’

His next nugget was like the new sheriff in town drawing his revolvers for all to see, even though Mr Pres has been wearing the badge for around five years. ‘A restored and revitalised South African Revenue Service,’ he declaimed, ‘has collected R4.8-billion in unpaid taxes as a result of evidence presented at the [State Capture] Commission, while the Special Investigating Unit has instituted civil litigation to the value of R64-billion.’

Flyover before the 2024 SONA. There are those who say these are the last five jets the SAAF can get into the air. Photo: GCIS.

Impressive stuff, especially for us lowly folk – except that the prison gangs are all the poorer because it’s been a while since a politician with real gwaap came stumbling through the bars. One of them was Andile Lungisa, but all he did was to smash a jug of water over an opposition member’s head. Useless in prison is he who has no ready cash on his person. It would bode the powers that be well to remember – if there’s any justice left in this country – that they may well one day be lined up in those dismal institutions, tray in hand, waiting for their next meal.

But we digress – we were  talking about the huffing boycotters, the EFF. If they thought there’d be anything interesting this year, they might have stormed the Bastille, if only to distract the rest of us from hearing the good news. But like the rest of us, they were probably left scratching their heads, wondering — wait a minute, dude, isn’t this a blatant copy and paste from last year?

One must feel for Pres. Ramaphosa. Ditto his speech writers. Charged as he is with presiding over the world’s most unequal society, skyrocketing unemployment, and war-zone-like murder rates – he doesn’t even know exactly how many foreign nationals are squatting illegally in his back yard, ­- he’s still the guy tasked with telling us we’re doing just fine. Or at least that the country is in a far better place than under apartheid.

This is hardly a good place to be for somebody meant to have only honest bones in his body. But then again, the man has learnt how to dodge bullets like the dude in The Matrix. He has has ducked the bullets of Marikana, the discredited New Dawn, foreign currency stuffed in his farm furniture … man, he’s even eluded those comrades from yesteryear who call him a sell-out for having rubbed shoulders with white mining bosses back in the dark days when clear distinctions were drawn – and understood – between black and white.

As a small-time writer, listening to President Cyril, the first thing that came to mind was, wow! the guy must have people from Bell Pottinger in his communications department. Real PR geniuses. Like all marketing, though, it works well for the brand – in this case the ruling ANC – but whether it serves the target market, meaning lowly you and I … dear reader, for this you’ll have to take a stroll on the ground and see if the messaging matches the lived reality.

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of missed those guys in the red overalls. To a layman’s gaze, those came way closer to home than the bespoke suits and Louis Vuitton handbags of the remainder, like figures from some first-world utopia. I’m sure one could buy a year’s worth of grocery just by pawning some of those acrylic nails. If that doesn’t tell you something about how removed our comrades in parliament are from the nation’s woes, perhaps the president’s words will set you straight.

Now cast in bronze, Nelson Mandela continues to overshadow the proceedings, from his famous balcony on the Cape Town Parade. At least he’s giving us a wave … Photo: GCIS.

Listen to a summary. Youth unemployment has gone down by 72 000 during the third quarter of 2023. (Rousing applause from the House.) But still, some 7.8 million capable, functional and breathing people are jobless. Still the Members of the House clap like their lives depend on it – which they probably do. Some 43.4% of unemployed youths ask themselves if all those years spent trying to better themselves in education would not have been better spent pushing contraband or becoming iinkabi – assassins of the cheapest, most reliable order.

Earning an honest living is becoming anathema. The public sector is replete with the side chicks and sons and nephews of the politically connected. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo found the whole cadre deployment idea was ‘unconstitutional’, and so the president was telling us that he would ensure that ‘people with the right skills are appointed to key positions.’ This made one wonder whether our leader isn’t living in China, or some parallel universe.

With the corrections guy, Arthur Fraser, clearly bent on tainting the president’s image, he’s had too much on his plate to pay meaningful attention to the Auditor-General’s (AGSA) reports. A miserable indictment those have for us: ‘AGSA identified 268 material irregularities in the 2022/23 municipality audits under the Municipal Financial Management Act, amounting to an estimated value of R5.19 billion. Most of these were related to procurement and payments, resource management, revenue management, and interest and penalties.’ In its 2021/2022 audit, it found that, ‘Of the 257 audited municipalities, only 38 (15%) had received clean audits, and 21 of those were in the Western Cape.’ In orderly societies, governments would topple and there would be mass protests in the streets. Here, the show goes on as usual.

According to Ramaphosa, the Presidential Employment Stimulus has created more than 1.7 million work and livelihood opportunities, and placed more than one million school assistants in 23 000 schools, providing participants with valuable work experience while improving learning outcomes.’ It’s worth noting that most of these ‘livelihood opportunities’ are for waste pickers who earn peanuts and have no benefits.

As regards the energy crisis, Ramaphosa mentioned several measures which made him ‘confident that the worst is behind us, and the end of load-shedding is finally within reach’.  Among others, billions has been invested in the Northern Cape with its ‘optimal solar conditions.’ You’d remember that, last year, the president announced the appointment of a a minister of electricity, Kgosientsho Ramakgopa, who soon became more famous for shebeen-ish dance moves than for putting an end to the load-shedding nightmare.

Other points included:

  • A Special Economic Zone in the Boegoebaai port aimed at driving investment in green energy.
  • Support for electric vehicle manufacturing.
  • Improving our ports and rail network and restoring them to world-class standards.
  • Auctioning the broadband spectrum after more than a decade of delays, resulting in new investment, lower data costs and improved network reach and quality.
  • Around 25% of farmland is now owned black South Africans.
  • The latest matric pass rate, at 82.9%, is the highest ever.
  • Nearly nine out of every 10 households live in formal dwellings.
  • The recruitment of 20,000 police officers over the past two years, and another 10,000 in the year to come.

Rather than dwell on the myriad challenges facing the country, the president sought to highlight improvements during 30 years of democracy. Not unexpectedly, he touched quite liberally on the years of state capture as well as those under the previous regime, and how the ANC has sought to improve the lives of the previously marginalised. As he waxed lyrical, several polls were sounding the death knell of Khongolose, predicting that the ANC vote might fall below 50 percent in the coming elections.

Judging by the president’s tone, he seemed undaunted by this prospect. However, given the emergence of numerous new parties, and a clear loss of confidence in the ruling party on the ground, we may see fewer ANC MPs in the House next year. For the unemployed, this might be a reason to knock back a few cold ones at the local.

FEATURED IMAGE: President Cyril Ramaphosa salutes the National Guard of Honour outside the Cape Town City Hall before delivering his 2024 State of the Nation Address. He is flanked by a rather grim-looking Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Amos Masondo Photo: GCIS.



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