The EFF missed a good speech.
In what has become an informal part of parliamentary proceedings, the county’s third-largest political party used procedural issues to delay President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday night.
After the EFF held up proceedings for an hour-and-a-half and then left in a huff, Ramaphosa went on to surprise by giving a speech of uncharacteristic boldness.
The overall gist of it was government is now ready to act. Or as he put it: “This year, we fix the fundamentals.”
This means many of the bureaucratic bottlenecks that have been a pain for ordinary citizens as well as business are being dealt with.
South Africans for instance, can also expect improvement in the rail system, a reduction in company registration from months to a day, and to obtain a water use licence within 90 days instead of five years.
The government, along with business and labour are also in the process of either drawing up or implementing “master plans” for the poultry, steel, sugar, auto, and clothing and textiles sectors.
He also basically opened up the electricity market, where municipalities in good standing will be free to buy electricity from an entity other than Eskom. This means Johannesburg’s City Power is now free to self-provide or source power from whoever it wants to.
Entities producing less than one megawatt of power would also not need a licence to do so.
No details were provided on what would be done to deal with Eskom’s R450 billion in debt.
He also announced unspecific plans to create a sovereign wealth fund as well as establish a state bank.
There will also be performance agreements for ministers by the end of the month – something he previously said would be implemented.
Ramaphosa even said South Africa is well on its way to creating its own “smart city”, something he flagged in his last Sona address. He said it would be based in Lanseria, in Gauteng and would house up to 500 000 people to “rise to change the social and economic apartheid spatial architecture”.
A big part of the speech was aimed at youth unemployment. With the percentage of unemployed youths sitting at over 53%, Ramaphosa mapped out the length of what the government is doing to address this issue.
He, for instance, said several of its projects would be orientated towards “vocational and technical education”.
He also reiterated that the government is preparing youngsters for the future of work. “This year, we will be introducing coding and robotics in grades R to 3 in 200 schools, with a plan to implement it fully by 2022.
“We are fundamentally changing how we prepare young people for the future of work, providing shorter, more flexible courses in specific skills that employers in fast-growing sectors need”.
This focus on the youth is unusual, in that Sona addresses usually say there is some kind of crisis, but provide no meaningful way to address it.
In his speech, Ramaphosa not only addressed it, but he also went on to announce programmes to get training, jobs or become self-employed.
There was more.
In the 32-page document, he also said the government is going to release about 700 000 hectares of state land for agricultural production, and that it will soon table an “Expropriation Bill that outlines the circumstances under which expropriation of land without compensation would be permissible”.
The plan to auction off high-value spectrum, necessary for high-speed data service like 5G, would be concluded before the end of the year.
The Infrastructure Fund’s implementation team has also been busy. It has “finalised the list of shovel-ready projects and has begun work to expand private investment into public infrastructure sectors with revenue streams”.
So far, it comes up with a project pipeline with potential investments of over R700 billion over the next ten years.
In all, the 2020 Sona was more than a comprehensive to-do list.
It was a declaration of intent by a man who has been (rightly) criticised for not acting boldly when it comes to addressing the country’s problems.