The 2021 State of the Nation Address (SONA) will take place tomorrow evening during a period when a world-wide pandemic has devastated economies around the world and restricted the movement of people between countries and even within them.
There will be no red carpet arrival of the attendees and guests at the Parliament building and no opportunity for the glitterati to show off their finery. Just as well as such obvious shows of opulence would probably not go down well with the possibly 50% unemployed in South Africa.
There is no doubt that President Cyril Ramaphosa will focus much of his attention on Covid-19 and the procurement and distribution of vaccines. This week’s revelation that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is only marginally (if at all) effective in preventing mild to moderate Covid-19 illness. To date, there is no data to analyse regarding its effectiveness in preventing severe and fatal cases of the virus.
It is likely that, in the questions parliamentarians will fire at Ramaphosa regarding the vaccine procurement process, why it was so late and why we accepted vaccines that expired within two months of arrival in the country. It is highly doubtful South Africa would have the ability to administer 1.5 million jabs before the vaccine expired. However, the fact that the vaccine might be ineffectual in preventing infection could not have been known at the time the vaccine doses were procured. Ramaphosa may also face questions about his nominating the Cuban doctors for the Nobel Peace Prize when our own Gift of the Givers has performed miracles in assisting people in our country (as well as elsewhere).
But the questions will only come from parliamentarians on Friday and the next week, and Ramaphosa might not even mention the Cubans in tomorrow’s SONA.
Finance will be another big issue Ramaphosa will address. Will the UIF TERS funding be extended and, given the amount of money South Africa is losing through mismanagement and corruption, there is little in the government (that is, our money) left to pay any additional grants. Ramaphosa is likely to mention the recent floods in the north of the country and the steps it is taking to help the homeless and destitute.
Internationally, South Africa has spent considerable time and resources in identifying investors and enticing them to establish businesses here in the Republic. However, South Africa’s dwindling economy, an unstable power supply and little to no water is not a great advertisement and will prevent investors from placing their money into such ventures.
Another important topic Ramaphosa should address is that of electrical power and availability. The fact that Kusile and Majuba power stations do not produce the electricity as per the specification and that they have each cost double their original estimates, (almost R150 billion more) and still do not work obviously points to a design flaw, something Eskom freely admits to. So, how do we fix the problem? Who is responsible and why have the companies and individuals responsible, including Eskom personnel and particularly those on the board when the contracts were signed off, not been sacked and told to pay the money back?
Will Ramaphosa mention renewable energy resources and announce concrete plans to procure renewable energy plants to supplement and eventually usurp Eskom? Despite knowing that Climate Change is real and acknowledging our need for at least carbon neutrality in our manufacturing processes, unions are afraid of job losses and so will oppose plans for introducing renewables. They believe that jobs are more important than the planet and, at a time when some are destitute and starving, many can understand the sentiment even if they don’t agree.
Government corruption is another topic Ramaphosa may mention, and this is an important issue not just to South Africans but also potential investors.
It is unlikely Ramaphosa will speak about the failed SEOs such as Eskom, SAA, Denel and the SABC, among others. To do so would require some sort of plan and thisis no more than a draft idea at this point.
There a number of issues that Ramaphosa will probably not touch upon but which, nevertheless, are just as important. The Zondo Commission is more important than many realise in that, the inquiry into state capture has already named many of the players and action must be taken on all those implicated and for which there is evidence of their misdeeds. Particularly, former president, Jacob Zuma, has already stated his intention to not appear at the inquiry, even though ordered to do so by the highest court in the land and one from which there is no appeal of its judgements, the Constitutional Court of South Africa. If Zuma gets away with this the constitution is in extreme danger.
We will have to wait and see what the President will say and hope that his message will spur on new energy in the country to get South Africa back on its feet.