The National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) has described President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address in Parliament last night as full of great and ambitious ideas. With only ten years to go to 2030, the President said heroic effort will be needed to achieve the goals set out by the National Development Plan (NDP) due to be achieved by then. He identified seven priority areas for the next five years, specifically focussing on economic transformation, job creation and education. NEASA Chief Executive, Gerhard Papenfus.
‘I cannot fault anything that the President said in his SONA address last night. It is full of great, ambitious ideas and contains an extensive list of steps to be taken in order to fix our severely distressed society. There’s nothing wrong with the President setting the bar high; for his cabinet, for government officials and the citizenry. However, it is in the execution where the challenge lies,’ he says.
Papenfus says there needs to be an overhaul in the implementation of strategies.
‘If we continue to make the same mistakes, the outcomes won’t change. Unless fundamentals are changed, the outcomes won’t change. Does the President have the political capital and overall administrative support to bring about structural changes and remove policy and legislative hindrances?’
He questions whether the President has sufficient backing from the executive and the ANC to realise his SONA goals.
‘The President’s biggest challenge will be to convince his own cabinet, and Party, to join him on this path of constructive reform. Especially taking into account that he is operating within a seemingly deeply divided ANC interspersed with powerful individuals who do not necessarily share his vision.’
Papenfus also reacted to the President’s stance on unemployment, especially amongst the youth. Ramaphosa said South Africa’s struggling economy must be a priority, including the 50% youth unemployment rate which he called a crisis.
‘The President acknowledges that unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is at totally unacceptable levels. However, without changing the fundamentals that have caused unemployment in the first place, the trajectory of unemployment, which is currently on an upward curve, will simply continue to its devastating conclusion.’
On land reform, Papenfus says the President’s approach might indicate that there is an acceptance of certain realities. Ramaphosa said a recently complete report by the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture will inform the country’s land reform programme
‘His emphasis on accelerated efforts to identify and release public land that is suitable for smart, urban settlements and farming, is encouraging. His confirmation of the importance of property rights and security of ownership is reassuring. However, to what extent the report by the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform will support these notions remains to be seen.’
Papenfus says the fact that the President has dusted off the almost forgotten National Development Plan, is good news.
‘This in itself is a very ambitious, albeit very worthy, cause; a project where the full participation of every citizen will be required. The President is correct when he states that ‘extraordinary measures’ will be required if the vision of the NDP is to be realised by 2030.’
Papenfus says the only way to ensure economic growth and development will be through foreign direct investment. However, he says much more needs to be done to create a conducive climate for investors.
‘The President admits that much more has to be done to improve the current investment climate. The one prominent deterrent to investment is Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE). Investors are simply not interested in investing under this dispensation.’
Skills development, especially amongst public servants must also remain a priority.
‘In order to implement his ambitious plans, the President admits that he will need skilled and professional public servants of the highest moral standards. What he will also need are many dedicated and enthusiastic public servants. There are currently not an abundance of those.’
Papenfus has welcomed the President’s emphasis on education. The President noted that the current interventions to improve basic education, provide free higher education for the poor and improve further-education colleges will not produce results unless children can read. A national reading coalition will therefore be launched where all foundation and intermediate-phase teachers will be trained to teach reading in English and the African languages.
‘However, changing current educational structures, poor quality and unenthusiastic educators, protected by a destructive South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) will be a mammoth task which will require a huge amount of political will and courage.’
In conclusion, Papenfus says there is enough in the President’s speech to inspire each and every citizen to get involved in this national ‘building’ project.
Privileged and challenged to be South African.
We are all in this together.