By: Clyde N.S Ramalaine
-SONA 2024 : the math-aint-mathing –
Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa’s ascent to the ANC presidency in December 2017 and subsequently to the South African presidency in February 2018, albeit in a caretaker role, was draped in the grandeur of an economic messiah.
Endorsed by white monopoly capital, he was marketed as the hope for organizational renewal, portrayed as a signpost of change, and presented as the BEE billionaire who would neither steal nor oversee the plundering of the fiscus. Despite the grand promises of a “New Dawn”, a borrowed Hugh Masekela “Thuma Mina” slogan and a transformative era for South Africa, my skepticism endured, consistently highlighting the disparities between the person, the rhetoric, and the much-needed tangible progress where it matters most. The narrative that portrayed Ramaphosa as the antidote to the nation’s challenges increasingly seemed disconnected from the stark reality unfolding under his leadership.
What Ramaphosa embodied at that time was perceived as hope; however, as events have unfolded, this hope appears more akin to a mirage. Drawing upon my role as an ordained clergy member, I am inevitably drawn to a passage from the ancient Sacred Text within the wisdom literature genre, specifically Proverbs 13.12, which asserts, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Consequently, South Africa is impelled to recalibrate its aspirations, signifying a necessity to vote from a transformed heart’s desire. This recalibration is imperative for the nation to realize the vitality alluded to in the aforementioned Scriptural passage.
Today, in 2024, the disappointment in Ramaphosa’s presidency is undeniable. Even those who once approached my criticism with skepticism now admit that my initial reservations were justified. The leader sold to South Africa and the world has become emblematic of unfulfilled promises, political maneuvering, and a widening gap between the envisioned future and the stark present.
WHAT MAKES FOR A STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS?
A State of the Nation Address (SONA) serves as a comprehensive report and a visionary outlook for the future. Central to evaluating this report is the inherent comparison between the 6th administration, led by Cyril Ramaphosa, and the 5th administration of his predecessor. Scrutinizing SONA involves a meticulous examination of both commitments and actual deliveries, with a paramount focus on understanding their tangible impact on the daily lives of South Africans. As the nation listens to the promises made by the current administration, a critical lens must be applied to assess whether these commitments translate into genuine improvements in the lived experiences of the populace. This involves not only looking forward to the aspirations of the seventh administration which Ramaphosa is pre-empting with SONA 2024 but also casting a retrospective glance at the preceding term, contemplating if the current leadership has steered the country toward a better trajectory from 5th to 6th with hope of 7th administrations when Ramaphosa assumed the presidency.
In any State of the Nation Address, one expects a comprehensive evaluation of key societal indicators, encompassing the economic state, health, education, and safety. However, the 2024 SONA delivered by Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, the poster boy of white monopoly capital since 1978, was a disappointing display of evasion and deception. The speechwriting for SONA 2024 was incoherent, sketchy, less structured, adopting a typical political campaign style of a rally. It appeared as though it was crafted in haste, akin to sorting dirty laundry at a laundromat. The 16-page address could have been condensed to three pages, given its repetitive and hashed nature.
CONTEXTUAL SETTING OF SONA 2024
The State of the Nation Address (SONA) for 2024 unfolds against the backdrop of several pivotal elements, each contributing to the significance and anticipation surrounding this annual tradition. Firstly, the SONA stands as a time-honoured tradition, an annual address delivered early February, shaping the narrative for the nation’s trajectory in the coming year.
Adding layers of significance, this marks the sixth time President Ramaphosa takes centre stage, steering the nation through the challenges and triumphs of his presidency. Notably, his inaugural SONA in 2018 came as a caretaker president, stepping into the leadership void left by Zuma’s recall, ths he was completing the 5th term and setting the tone for the anticipated and much publicised transformative journey that lay ahead.
Furthermore, SONA 2024 serves as a poignant juncture, symbolizing not only the culmination of President Ramaphosa’s first term but also signalling the initiation of the sixth administration. As South Africa grapples with economic shifts, social dynamics, and global challenges, this address becomes a lens through which the successes and shortcomings of the preceding term are scrutinized.
Crucially, this year’s SONA is set against the backdrop of a pivotal election year, with South Africans poised to cast their votes by August 2024. The address becomes a platform for President Ramaphosa to articulate his leadership accomplishments during the sixth term, as he and the ANC seek to resonate with the electorate, weaving a narrative that could influence the course of the nation in the years to come.
CRITICAL ELEMENTARY QUESTIONS
Beyond the eloquent promises articulated in all of Ramaphosa’s SONA addresses from SONA 2018 to SONA 2024, a deeper and more meaningful evaluation emerges when we compare Ramaphosa’s term to that of his predecessor. It necessitates probing questions about the overall well-being of South Africa in the aftermath of the 5th administration.
- Is there an observable improvement in the quality of life for citizens?
- Do the lights remain consistently on as they did before 2019, or is the issue of load shedding still impacting public hospitals, potentially jeopardizing lives?
- Has the public transport, particularly the rail system, shown tangible improvements since 2019?
- Are South Africans today safer under the protection of the SAPS compared to previous years?
- Has the likelihood of being killed in South Africa decreased when compared to the period before 2019?
- Do the successful completed school-leavers of 2023 have reasonable prospects of finding employment in their homeland?
- Is NSFAS effectively assisting those aspiring to pursue tertiary education, or has it become a financial tool for a group of politicians or a political party?
- Do the commitments made by the government translate into substantive changes, or are they merely rhetorical?
- For pensioners going to the grocery store, does the experience confirm a nightmare of heart palpitations, possibly due to sky-rocketed food prices directly linked to Ramaphosa’s era?
These questions as elementary as they appear constitute the base for critical examination of the performance of governance, emphasizing the need for accountability and transparency. By juxtaposing the two administrations, we gain valuable insights into the trajectory of the nation’s progress or decline and ascertain whether the current leadership has succeeded in surpassing the benchmarks set by its predecessor.
WHAT WAS RAMAPHOSA’S PRIMARY OBJECTIVE WITH SONA 2024?
Ramaphosa attempted to utilize SONA 2024 as a platform to campaign for his second-term campaign of SA presidency, relying on the well-worn theme of ‘State Capture,’ a political construct first used by the DA in its 2009 political campaign. Ironically, his cabinet, starting with the president is rife with implicated individuals, making him the epitome of the capture he claims to have halted.
Centralizing Ramaphosa as a key figure in state capture becomes apparent when we consider his tenure since assuming the deputy president position in 2014 under Zuma. Despite the impression he gives today, Ramaphosa cannot escape the fact that he was second-in-charge during the Zuma years, directly responsible for Government Business, including State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that now find themselves in ruins. Ramaphosa, along with his supporters in all shapes, should not mislead South Africa. He is undeniably linked to the era of state capture, particularly due to his involvement in the Glencore deals with Eskom. His role as the Eskom Warroom Chair further underscores his association with a convicted corrupt Glencore, a company he was actively supporting and had investment interest. When Ramaphosa now in SONA 2024 asserts that state capture involved both local and multinational entities, it is important to recognize that Glencore, a company intimately connected to him, falls under the latter category. As the chair of the Eskom Warroom, he was advocating for Glencore, making it evident that his claims of ignorance or non-participation in state capture are glaring falsehoods. South Africa should not be deceived by his attempts to distance himself from this dark period in our nation’s history.
WHAT TACTICS DID RAMAPHOSA USE TO DELIVER SONA 2024
President Ramaphosa strategically commenced his address by briefly revisiting the events of the past 30 years. However, this retrospective analysis seemed to lack substance, resembling fleeting vapours, and served as an attempt to deflect from the critical task of accountability. In doing so, he selectively punctuated key events, including the 2008 economic crisis, State Capture, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, and the ongoing challenges stemming from it. Additionally, he intertwined the discussion with the prevalent issue of gender-based violence, employing these elements as means to evade direct accountability for his administration’s actions and decisions.
In the common sense words of Taraji P. Henson, the esteemed African-American actress, who recently echoed sentiments expressed by Viola Davis in an interview, shedding light on the financial exploitation faced by black female actresses in Hollywood, she candidly remarked, “You see me work this hard because the math ain’t mathing.” This implies that she is not being compensated commensurate with her worth, leading her to take on additional work. I find this sentiment fitting when referencing Ramaphosa’s presidency, as the numbers simply do not add up. The disparity between what he claims and what ordinary South Africans experience in their daily lives underscores a significant incongruence.
Despite the narratives put forth by state officials and politicians, a fundamental challenge persists—does the arithmetic align with reality? No matter what Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni may attempt to convey, it is crucial not to overlook her role as a mere public relations spokesperson for the Ramaphosa administration, handsomely rewarded for her questionable campaigning tactics as part of the CR17 campaign.
When South Africans express the sentiment that “the numbers ain’t mathing,” it stems from the fact that the lived experience of South Africa becomes the foundational premise for any evaluation presented in a State of the Nation Address. Citizens are entitled to an accurate understanding of their current state, and this understanding is most effectively communicated through numerical data. The discrepancy between the proclaimed state of the nation and the actual experiences of South Africans is highlighted by the incongruence in these numerical representations. Therefore, an authentic assessment of the nation’s condition necessitates a meticulous examination of the quantitative data that reflects the real-life circumstances faced by its citizens.
We will examine a selection of these crucial numbers, as this analysis aims to dismantle the narrative of a compelling ‘good’ story that Ramaphosa and his cadre of ANC patronage beneficiaries readily propagate on the eve of national elections to safeguard their interests.
IMPLICATIONS OF ECONOMIC INDICATORS: NATIONAL DEBT AND INFLATION
The staggering increase in South Africa’s national debt from $163,3 billion [Statista] in February 2018, to a substantial $298 billion in 2024 carries profound implications for the nation’s economic landscape. This soaring debt burden not only signifies a considerable financial strain on the current generation but also poses a formidable challenge for future ones. The implications ripple through the fabric of the nation’s economic performance during the period from 2019 to 2024, potentially leaving a lasting impact on the prospects of subsequent generations.
The exponential rise in national debt raises concerns about the sustainability of government finances, as it necessitates significant portions of the national budget to be allocated for debt servicing. This diverts funds that could have been invested in critical sectors such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Consequently, the burden of this escalating debt is not just a present challenge but a legacy that future generations will inherit, limiting their fiscal flexibility and impeding potential economic growth.
Simultaneously, the spike in inflation from 4.1% in 2019 to 5.84% in 2024 adds another layer of complexity to the economic landscape. This inflationary surge has tangible consequences, particularly for the economically vulnerable segments of society. The poor, who already grapple with financial constraints, find their purchasing power further eroded as the cost of goods and services rises. This not only exacerbates existing inequalities but also undermines trust in the South African economy. The inflated prices create a sense of economic insecurity, challenging the confidence of both consumers and investors, which is pivotal for sustainable economic growth.
Moreover, the correlation between the surge in national debt, escalating inflation, and the reported wasteful expenditure of 1.52 billion from 2019 to 2024, as emblematic of Ramaphosa’s New Dawn, underscores the challenges in aligning political rhetoric with tangible economic outcomes. The mismanagement of resources and the failure to curb inflationary pressures raise questions about the efficacy of policies enacted during this period. As the nation grapples with the aftermath of these economic shifts, a critical examination is warranted to ascertain the true impact on the socio-economic fabric of South Africa.
Bad economic stewardship has laden the South African economy with persisting challenges, encompassing issues such as power shortages, transportation bottlenecks, political uncertainty, stagnant growth, elevated unemployment rates, insufficient investment, excessive spending, and a dearth of fiscal consolidation.
POVERTY INDEX : A BLEAK REALITY UNDER RAMAPHOSA’S LEADERSHIP
Examining the poverty index reveals a stark and disheartening picture of socio-economic conditions during Ramaphosa’s leadership from 2019 to 2024. The numbers speak volumes, with the poverty index escalating from 13.8 million in 2019 to a staggering 18.2 million in 2024, as evidenced by the extension of grants to economically disadvantaged South Africans. This marked increase underscores a concerning trend, where a significant portion of the population remains entrenched in poverty despite the promises of a New Dawn. If judged by these distressing figures, President Ramaphosa faces the challenging task of convincing the nation that his leadership has translated into tangible improvements for the most vulnerable. The widening gap in poverty levels raises questions about the effectiveness of policies implemented during his tenure and the extent to which they have addressed the root causes of inequality and economic disparity. This substantial increase in the poverty index challenges the notion of a ‘good story’ to tell, prompting a critical examination of the socio-economic impact of the sixth administration’s governance on the everyday lives of South Africans.
UNEMPLOYMENT WOES: THE HARSH REALITY OF RAMAPHOSA SA’S LEADERSHIP
Despite grand promises, public relations efforts, and costly job summits, President Ramaphosa’s leadership has been marred by a disheartening surge in unemployment. From 29.1% in 2019, the unemployment rate escalated to a staggering 31.9% in 2024, painting a grim picture of the economic struggles faced by ordinary South Africans. Despite announced grand plans for public and private sector cooperation, the anticipated surge in job opportunities remains elusive. Notably, the youth, the demographic with boundless potential and aspirations for a brighter future, bears the brunt, with an alarming unemployment rate of 61%. This statistic not only reflects the challenges in creating meaningful employment opportunities for the next generation but also signals potential long-term consequences. A disenchanted and unemployed youth population can lead to social unrest, exacerbating existing societal issues and posing a threat to the nation’s stability. President Ramaphosa, despite his efforts, faces the daunting task of reconciling promises with the stark reality of persistent unemployment that grips the nation under his leadership.
LOADSHEDDING ONGOING CRISIS AND ITS IMPACT
In 2019, a study carried out by the CSIR estimated that the cost of load shedding ranged between R60 billion and R120 billion for that year alone. More recently, in 2023, the Minister of Energy reported that the daily economic impact of load shedding on the country was estimated to be R1 billion.
The staggering increase in load shedding, from a mere 30 days in 2018 to a disheartening 335 days in 2023, underscores not only a failure to address a critical issue but also the profound implications it imposes on various facets of South African life. Economically, the continuous power disruptions wreak havoc on businesses, hindering productivity and exacerbating financial strains on enterprises already grappling with a challenging economic landscape. Socially, the unremitting power cuts disrupt daily routines, leading to increased stress and frustration among citizens who are forced to navigate a perpetually unreliable energy supply. Psychologically, the strain of living under the constant threat of power outages takes a toll on mental well-being, contributing to heightened anxiety and diminished quality of life.
Furthermore, the incessant load shedding disrupts family life, affecting domestic routines, and straining relationships as South Africans grapple with the enduring challenges of an energy crisis.
Permit me to cite from the cite from a PSA report:‘There is growing evidence that loadshedding is undermining South Africa’s economic growth. The economy is not only shedding jobs, but also losing billions of rands owing to a lack of productivity. Impact of loadshedding on the public service The majority of South Africans rely and depend on public services. Public hospitals, water reticulation plants, public schools, traffic departments, traffic lights on public roads, courts etc., cannot function effectively without electricity. Meanwhile, services rendered by some of these institutions can be a matter of life and death. Yet, despite their significance, they are not insulated from electricity cut offs during loadshedding. Loadshedding has also raised the cost of living. Food cannot last long in fridges. People are forced to find alternative sources of energy such as gas or generators to cook, buy battery lamps or install solar systems to keep the lights on in their houses. Those who can afford it are going off the grid. For an ordinary public servant this is too high a cost to bear. There is currently no special package to lift the burden of this cost on workers.’https://www.psa.co.za/docs/default-source/psa-documents/psa-opinion/impact-of-loadshedding.pdf?sfvrsn=49f278de_0
Despite promises to address the issue, the prolonged load shedding paints a bleak picture of unfulfilled commitments and a nation left grappling with the far-reaching consequences of a persistently unstable energy supply under Ramaphosa’s administration. Ramaphosa, in a typical public relations stance, twice returned from international meetings because South Africa was experiencing load shedding at stage 6, with him claiming he would promptly fix the issue. However, until now, there has been no tangible resolution.
SO WHERE IS THE REAL SUCCESS OF A RAMAPHOSA SIX YEARS ?
I dare to assert that the success of Ramaphosa’s presidency is nowhere reflected in an improved lived experience for the masses of South Africa. It is not discernible in any economic indicators signaling a nation rising from the abyss, nor is it palpable in increased job opportunities for our children. Unfortunately, these arenas prove to be misguided spaces for assessing Ramaphosa’s success.
Allow me to propose, here and now, that the only genuine indicator of a successful presidency lies in the measurable increase of personal wealth for Ramaphosa and his associates. This narrative tells a disconcerting tale wherein COVID-19 billions vanished, loans from international agencies remain unaccounted for, and the act of load shedding has transformed into an economic opportunity from which billions are generated for those associated with him. When Ramaphosa expounds on Northern Cape nitrogen and alternative energy plans, one should question the involvement of his political cronies as unseen partners in these deals. Consequently, Ramaphosa’s wealth, along with that of his associates within the ANC, has quadrupled at the expense of South Africa.
RAMAPHOSA THE MOST SHIELDED PRESIDENT THE ANC PRODUCED
Ramaphosa’s shielded status, wherein he is allowed to obfuscate, remain unaccountable, and lack transparency, persists as he remains under the influence of a cohort that includes party and interparty actors, the judiciary, beneficiaries of white monopoly capital who exert control over him, and a recently hushed group, whom I long ago dubbed the 101 ANC Dalmatian veterans’ puppies—now duly subdued after securing deals for which they clamored—and a purchased and conflicted media crowd. Even the parliament, responsible for crafting laws, appears complicit in shielding him from accountability.
Adding to Ramaphosa’s protection is a compliant National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) functioning like a lapdog. Despite 20 months passing since the initiation of a criminal case against Ramaphosa for Phala Phala crimes, South Africa is still in the dark about whether any investigating officer has taken a statement from him. He stands as an insulated politician, purportedly fixing the damage caused by his predecessor, while wreaking havoc in the very spheres he claims to be repairing. This no so strange coalition misguides the uninformed, portraying him as the saviour of both the ANC and a South African nation.
In the aftermath of SONA 2024, it becomes evident that Ramaphosa’s presidency is marred by broken promises, hollow rhetoric, and a deliberate evasion of accountability. His attempt to cloak failures under the shadow of COVID-19 only further underscores a leadership void. The disregard for ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Thuma Mina’ themes, once heralded as symbols of positive change, exposes a leader conceding to the demise of his own aspirations. The insulting discussion on public hospitals reflects a disconnect from the harsh realities faced by millions relying on these services. Ramaphosa’s address, tailored for sycophants and laden with orchestrated hate towards Zuma, reveals a leader more concerned with political maneuvering than genuine progress. Revelations of past betrayals and questionable collaborations challenge his credibility, leaving him suspended in a legitimacy crisis.
It is clear that South Africa cannot endure five more years of this charade. SONA 2024 should mark his farewell, and the citizens must unite to reject the continued abuse. The six years under Ramaphosa’s leadership have resulted in ruin, aptly described as RAMARUIN, and the nation must chart a course toward genuine change. Indeed, my anthology of commentary and analysis, spanning a volume from 2017 to 2024, portraying Ramaphosa as embodying a failed political Leadership Suspended in Crisis of Legitimacy and Immortalized in Distrust, remains relevant today.