OPINION | Ramaphosa tackles it all – now we wait in anticipation

Economic matters centre stage in president’s both confident and tough State of the Nation address

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Watch this space – SA is embracing the brave, new world.
This was the underlying message of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s confident second State of the Nation address (Sona).
Delivered at the tail end of a stiflingly hot Cape day to a parliament nearing the end of a less than illustrious term, the Sona was tipped to be disrupted by Pay Back the Money Part Two antics and to be heavy on electioneering, thin on substance.
The opposite turned out to be the case as Ramaphosa spoke, uninterrupted, delivering some 9,000 words.
His wide-ranging and in parts tough speech paid due reference to history and current problems but looked firmly forward to a country that would be “a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise”.
Economic matters were centre stage and the president provided considerable concrete details.
He intends building on the success of 2018’s investment drive and holding another investment conference. This time he hopes provinces will get a slice of the pie and provincial governments have been asked to identify potential projects for investors.
Investor friendly means cutting the red tape and policy, legal, regulatory and administrative barriers are all up for review.
The president has signed on changes to the competition law in order to level the local business playing field. Greater mobile spectrum allocation inches the country towards the digital future. E-visas are to make SA more tourist-friendly. State land is to be utilised for redistribution and housing.
There is to be a restructuring of Eskom and Ramaphosa was blunt on the threat Eskom posed, but what this means for the fiscus will be fleshed out in the Budget later this month.
It’s back to the future in some key areas of the security establishment.
“We have therefore acted to stabilise and restore the credibility of institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Revenue Service, the State Security Agency and the South African Police Service,” the president told the sitting.
In line with recommendations of a panel of experts, the State Security Agency is to be split and return to its old shape, divided into a domestic and foreign service, and overseen by a National Security Council chaired by the president. Ramaphosa said this was to restore a “professional national intelligence capability” and make sure the spooks fulfil their mandate to protect the country and its people rather than party-political agenda.
Several measures were announced to encourage ethical conduct within the civil service. To provide muscle to the corruption clean up, a special directorate is to set up within the national prosecuting authority – effectively re-establishing the Scorpions. (Some quipped the new investigating unit should be called the Buffaloes.)
The president announced a presidential commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, looking to position SA to embrace the world of Artificial Intelligence, robotics and high tech.
Perhaps the quote that most clearly encompassed Ramaphosa’s vision of reaching this future was: “At the centre of all our efforts to achieve higher and more equitable growth, to draw young people into employment and to prepare our country for the digital age, must be the prioritisation of education and the development of skills.”
What this means is a compulsory two years pre-school, digital learning in all schools, a range of new technical subjects, technical high schools and intense early reading programmes.. This high-tech future fits ill with the lack of sanitation and dilapidated condition of a number of schools and Ramaphosa made it clear this sorry state of affairs was being addressed.
It was an impressive Sona, measured and comprehensive to a fault, and left the opposition benches with little to carp about.
However, the opposition the president will have to face down is likely to be a lot closer to home. If Ramaphosa is to fulfil his vision of arresting the corrupt, re-setting the education system, introducing NHI and tackling a range of vested interests he is likely to bump heads with some powerful groupings – from Sadtu and the private health industry to ANC politicians and civil servants on the take.
Ramaphosa’s journey to this Sona was characterised by careful caution but perhaps we are to see the president live up to the words he quoted from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous call to American citizens “... if [the person in the arena] fails, at least [he] fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.
Watch this space...

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