In response to the debate on his State of the Nation Address last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted that many people cannot find jobs and even those with jobs wonder if they will be able to provide for their families, as the cost of living increases. Meanwhile, load shedding continues to have a devastating impact on every aspect of everyone’s lives.

 “As we reflect on the journey we have travelled, we must acknowledge the severe challenges that we still face,” he said. “The State Capture Commission revealed the scale of corruption that unfolded over the course of a decade and violent crime continues to plague communities across our country. Many municipalities are struggling to provide the basic services that people need.”

However, he assured MPs that over the past five years, his government has worked to get back onto the path of working towards a better life for all. “Over the last five years, we have made significant progress in restoring our economy to growth and to create jobs. We have seen the results of these efforts in the growth of agricultural exports. South Africa now exports roughly half of its agricultural products in value terms. In 2022, South Africa’s agricultural exports reached a record $12.8 billion or R 247 billion,” he said.

The government has also worked hard to increase investment in the economy and thereby create opportunities for employment and for the growth of new businesses. In that regard, he said: “We have held five investment conferences, which have raised more than R1.5 trillion in commitments from investors.”

Of these commitments, more than R560 billion has already gone into a diverse and growing range of industries – from cloud computing to mining, from auto parts to paper production, from vaccines to battery assembly, from solar plants to cruise ship terminals.

These investment conferences, all of which have been oversubscribed, have shown that South Africa is an attractive investment destination. “At the same time,” President Ramaphosa continued, “as we have mobilised investments from established South African and international firms, we have worked to build the next generation of companies that will forge a new path of production and employment.

“To enable these companies to get off the ground, we have supported around 1 000 black industrialists over the last five years. These are substantial operations that employ more than 90 000 workers. Over the last five years, we have worked to reverse the decline over several years of investment by both the public and private sectors in capital projects, in infrastructure,” President Ramaphosa said.

The government has also established the Infrastructure Fund to bring together financing from the state, from private investors, from development banks and other financing institutions. Meanwhile, Infrastructure South Africa was established to coordinate a massive public infrastructure build. Through these efforts, projects worth over R230 billion are currently in construction, including in energy, water infrastructure and rural roads projects.

Furthermore, by providing capacity support to provinces and municipalities, they are improving their ability to spend the grants allocated to infrastructure. “We are committed to putting an end to the practice of infrastructure funds being returned to the fiscus unspent. This is a problem across the country, including here in the Western Cape,” the President noted.

The government considered infrastructure to be the flywheel of the economy. “After the decline in gross fixed capital formation over a number of years, we are now poised to improve our infrastructure build so that we can reach the levels that were foreseen by the National Development Plan by 2030,” President Ramaphosa maintained.

The President then turned the audience’s attention to the rural areas, noting the challenge these communities face in the rainy season when they want to cross flooded rivers but there is no bridge available to do so. Videos of young children crossing flooded rivers to get to school has strengthened the government’s resolve to speed up the process of building rural bridges, he said. These bridges are being built as part of the Welisizwe programme, which is on course to complete the target of 96 bridges completed.

On the provision of water to the people, the President said, access to clean running water is one of the biggest challenges many South Africans face. To alleviate this problem, the government has been focussing on bringing piped water to villages that previously relied on streams and boreholes.

On transport, the government has restored operations on 26 out of 40 commuter rail lines. “We have invested in new rail infrastructure and new trains that are produced here in South Africa. These trains are being built in Ekurhuleni and are being rolled out throughout the country. We will soon be exporting the same trains to many other countries on our continent,” the President said. This investment is making a huge difference in the lives of the people who rely on public transport, while developing the manufacturing capacity that will enable the growth of our train exports.

On Eskom, President Ramaphosa said the government is making clear and measurable progress in resolving an electricity crisis that goes back more than 15 years. Maintenance at Eskom plants has improved after a long period when the maintenance of our plants was neglected. Damaged units have returned to service ahead of schedule.

On corruption, he said the over the last five years, tackling corruption, including bringing those responsible for state capture to justice, has been a priority. “We have been rebuilding law enforcement agencies and other anti-corruption bodies because it is only through strong, effective and independent institutions that we can safeguard against a return to state capture,” he said.

“As recommended by the State Capture Commission, we are putting in place laws, institutions and practices that reduce the potential for corruption of any sort and on any scale,” President Ramaphosa assured his audience. “Over the last five years, we have been working together to tackle poverty, hunger and the rising cost of living.”

On education he said great changes underway that will ensure that the young people of today and tomorrow will be more skilled, more capable and more successful than any that have come before.

Furthermore, after many years of research, debate and preparation, South Africa is getting ready to implement the National Health Insurance (NHI). The NHI Bill will be implemented incrementally, responsibly and sustainably, he maintained. The Constitution places upon us a responsibility to achieve the progressive realisation of access for all to health care. The NHI is a major development towards that goal.

Mava Lukani

16 February 2024