PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa delivered in his maiden State of the Nation Address on Friday night and used to the occasion to indicate that his Presidency would focus on rebuilding the economy and attracting investors.
He admitted that the country was facing serious challenges, with the ailing economy being a clear sign that things were not in order. Ramaphosa accepted that poverty had risen and he said efforts had to be made to put the country on a new growth path.
“This year, we will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation. We will do this by getting social partners in our country to collaborate in building a social compact on which we will create drivers of economic recovery,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the government would work towards organising an Investment Conference in the next three months which would target both domestic and international investors, to market investment opportunities in SA. In addition, he said the government would address the decline over many years of SA’s manufacturing capacity, which has deeply affected employment and exports.
“We will seek to re-industrialise on a scale and at a pace that draws millions of job seekers into the economy. We are going to promote greater investment in key manufacturing sectors through the strategic use of incentives and other measures.
To further stimulate manufacturing, we will forge ahead with the localisation programme, through which products like textile, clothing, furniture, rail rolling stock and water meters are designated for local procurement. We have already spent more than R57 billion on locally-produced goods that may have been imported from other countries,” said Ramaphosa.
Furthermore, he highlighted that Special Economic Zones (SEZs) remained an important instrument that will be used to attract strategic foreign and domestic direct investment and build targeted industrial capabilities and establish new industrial hubs.
He stated that the process of industrialisation must be underpinned by transformation.
“Through measures like preferential procurement and the black industrialists’ programme, we are developing a new generation of black and women producers that are able to build enterprises of significant scale and capability. We will improve our capacity to support black professionals, deal decisively with companies that resist transformation, use competition policy to open markets up to new black entrants, and invest in the development of businesses in townships and rural areas,” he said.
He also touched on policies that were adopted during the December elective conference. He said the much talked about Radical Economic Transformation will be the source to get black women into the mainstream economy.
“Radical Economic Transformation requires that we fundamentally improve the position of black women and communities in the economy, ensuring that they are owners, managers, producers and financiers. Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is, therefore, a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity,” explained Ramaphosa.
He added that the youth of the country would take centre stage in his presidency.
He said plans were afoot to address youth unemployment.
“They are already forming a greater proportion of the labour force on our infrastructure projects and are the primary beneficiaries of programmes such as the installation of solar water heaters and the war on leaks. We continue to draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity through programmes such as the Employment Tax Incentive,” he said.
The business mogul explained that he would be getting his friends from the corporate world to lend a hand and train the young people to be better equipped for the world employment. He explained that working in partnership with business, organised labour and community representatives, the government would create opportunities for young people to be exposed to the world of work through internships, apprenticeships, mentorship and entrepreneurship.
“Next month, we will launch the Youth Employment Service initiative, which will place unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the economy. Together with our partners in business, we have agreed to create a million such internships in the next three years. If we are to respond effectively to the needs of youth, it is essential that young people articulate their views and are able to engage with government at the highest level. I will, therefore, be establishing a Youth Working Group that is representative of all young South Africans to ensure that our policies and programmes advance their interests,” he said.
He also touched on free education for first-year students from households with an income of less than R350,000 a year, making good on President Jacob Zuma’s last populist promise, and the long-awaited national health service.
“The NHI Bill is now ready to be processed through government and will be submitted to Parliament in the next few weeks.Certain NHI projects targeting the most vulnerable people in society will commence in April this year.”
Ramaphosa also made a call for mining to once again become a driver of economic growth, calling it a sunrise sector, and for an aggressive drive to boost the potential of the agriculture sector. This would include faster land redistribution, and where necessary, expropriation without compensation.
“We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensures that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.”
Opposition parties welcomed Ramaphosa’s inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA) but some were rubbed the wrong way by the announcement of land expropriation without compensation.
The African Christian Democratic Party President Reverend Kenneth Meshoe also praised the decorum in the National Assembly.
“It was a very good speech. The atmosphere in the house reminded me of the time of Tata Mandela. Ramaphosa touched the right buttons. He spoke to what South Africans were concerned about. It Especially when it came to crime,” he said.
The Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald was however not impressed. He said Ramaphosa spoke about the digital revolution which is coming but the country was still stuck on analogue instead of having migrated to the digital spectrum.
“He spoke about the fourth and fifth revolutions but we still don’t have digital migration. As the Freedom Front Plus, we will give him a chance but we are not happy with the expropriation of land without compensation. That will hurt the economy. He spoke about appealing to investors but we will have to see if they will. I guess the proof of the pudding will be in the taste,” he said.
NFP’s Prof. Nhlanhla Khubisa welcomed Ramaphosa’s maiden speech saying it addressed the major challenges South Africa was dealing with.
“It was a breath of fresh air. He touched on youth unemployment, corruption and ridding our country of state capture. We also expect him to deal with issues of SMMe’s and land,” Khubisa said.
African National Congress’s Deputy Secretary General, Jessie Duarte said:
“The speech was a step up for the country. We raised the moment. The 1 million jobs are very important.
Secondly, there’s a question of the economy, removing all the red tapes, it will make a lot of difference for small businesses. I like the fact that he is going to be meeting with departments, it shows he is a hands-on president.”
UDM president Bantu Holomisa said that he hoped the speech will not become another one of ANC’s empty promise.
“We welcome the intent, there’s no doubt that he listened to what I told him on Thursday. People are sick and tired of the ANC’s lies over the past years, I hope that we are not going back to that. He will need a programme of action and it will depend on the attitude of his administration,” Holomisa said.