The big story: Ramaphosa’s best SONA yet?

Around Valentine’s Day every year, we receive a love letter from our president: the State of the Nation Address (Sona) with its look back at the previous year and a list of promises for the year ahead. 

This year’s address took place at the Cape Town City Hall last night following January’s fire damage to parliament, where it is typically hosted. 

At just under two hours, it was one of the longest State of the Nation addresses in recent history, and it contained a lot more detail than usual. And if there was one message Ramaphosa hammered home, it’s that old Clinton administration adage: It’s the economy, stupid. 😏

A bald statement that “businesses create jobs” – not the government, elicited applause – and some rumblings from the would-be Communists in the room. 

Ramaphosa has long been accused of dragging his feet on reforms, but as business journalist Carol Paton put it, he took his plans a bit further last night in a largely business-friendly speech. 

Some highlights: 

🔹Industrialising the production of hemp and cannabis, to benefit farmers in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, potentially creating 130 000 new jobs.

🔹Freeing up electricity generation even more to create a competitive market outside of Eskom. 

🔹Cutting red tape for small businesses, with a dedicated new team in the Presidency headed by Sipho Nkosi, chair of the Small Business Institute. 

🔹Setting a deadline of three weeks for the long-delayed auction of high-frequency communications spectrum. (As ITweb points out, spectrum means more affordable data available to firms and households.)

🔹Third-party access offered to private partners on Transnet’s rails. We have heard rumblings of this, but he’s now committed that Transnet will start by making slots available to third parties on the container corridor between Durban and City Deep in Gauteng from April. There are also plans for private partnerships for our declining ports by October. 

🔹A modernised visa application process for visitors to SA: Remote-working visas and start-up visas are being considered.

🔹Offering businesses tax incentives to employ and create opportunities for 50 000 young people. 

Besides the economy, Ramaphosa repeatedly touched on corruption, noting:

🔹 Acting on a recommendation to protect whistleblowers by June. 

🔹 Discussions with the judiciary on a special court roll for state capture and corruption cases. 

🔹 The establishment of a state-owned holding company to house strategic SOEs, a key site of plunder if the state capture reports are anything to go by. This will centralise government’s oversight. 

Ramaphosa also noted that the State of Disaster would end, and the Social Relief of Distress Grant has been extended to the end of March 2023. The Business Day that a R200bn windfall will finance the R350 monthly payments from higher commodity prices. 

As News24 Politics Editor, Qaanitah Hunter put it, Ramaphosa has always been good at taking responsibility for how bad things are and not sugar-coating our problems. But his plans to tackle these problems are either thin on detail or left to government departments too inept or corrupt to effect real change. 🤞🏽 This year’s Sona was perhaps Ramaphosa’s meatiest yet. Let’s see if it yields tangible results. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 11 February 2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.