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The nation really is in a bad state

Cyril Ramaphosa has definitely still got it. In an impressive State of the Nation (Sona) speech on February 10 he admitted that matters relating to governing the country had got quite messy and government was to blame for the bigger messes. Yet most of those watching seemed to be left feeling rather warm and fuzzy.

Even DA leader John Steenhuisen seemed like a puppy in his post-speech comments. None of the usual bitching and complaining; rather, his criticism seemed to be based largely on the claim that “We said that first”.

It was more than a little ironic that Sona was held at Cape Town’s City Hall thanks to the recent fire at Parliament. The fire, it has been widely accepted, was the result of a serious security breach at the most hallowed of buildings. No one has yet to take responsibility for that breach, but Ramaphosa did say quite candidly in his Sona speech that Cabinet must take full responsibility for the unrest that rocked South Africa in July.

It will have surprised no one that that Bheki Cele rejected the suggestion (in an interview after the speech) that this admission might be an indictment on his performance the Minister of Police: “Oh no, not me,” he said, “he blamed the cabinet” (or some such nonsense).

We have said it before and will say it again: In what often seems like a gallery of rogues this one stands out as a special kind of embarrassing.

So what did we like in this State of the Nation speech that was big on promises, dreams, schemes and undertakings but light on specific targets and measurable timelines. (All heat, no light … again.)

CR acknowledged that “government doesn’t create jobs … the private sector does!” Well what do you know. Every sensible politician and analyst in SA has been banging on about that for years and finally the Big Chief is on board too.

As John Steenhuisen said rather smugly after welcoming the news: “Straight from the DA playbook!” I am not sure why he was so pleased about that but I have yet to work the guy out. I cannot help wondering what Mbali Ntuli would have done/said if she had won the race to lead the official opposition.

CR also acknowledged that “there was indeed ‘state capture’ [which means] that public institutions and state-owned enterprises were infiltrated by a criminal network intent on looting public money for private gain”.

Importantly, on a night of few specifics and fewer measurables, the president also committed to :

Deliver a plan for a response to the Zondo Report into State Capture to Parliament before June.

Moving away from crime and corruption, CR also announced a plan to industrialise the production of Green Gold. He promised a review of policy and regulatory framework for industrial hemp and cannabis “to realise the huge potential for investment and job creation”.

“The hemp and cannabis sector has the potential to create more than 130 000 new jobs.”

“Our people in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal  and elsewhere are ready to farm with this age-old commodity and bring it to market in new and innovative forms.”

(A lot of people will be claiming to have said that first.)

We are relieved that Ramaphosa also announced the extension of the Social Relief of Distress Grant for another year.

It is hard for us in the middle classes to imagine how R350 a month (that “has provided support to more than 10 million unemployed people who were most vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic”) can actually keep the wolves at bay but we know that it does!

Also, as the president told us, there are people who are so determined and disciplined that they somehow manage to save this very small windfall and start the smallest of micro-businesses to support their families.

No real movement yet on the Basic Income Grant (which TBH we at Call Off The Search are find increasingly hard to reject outright, as we did until quite recently).

Something we love even if we have heard it all before … is the promise to cut red tape.

The appointment of Sipho Nkosi as head red tape cutter in a new dedicated unit in the Presidency seems to be a hopeful development (maybe). The former mining boss and current Chairperson of the Small Business Institute seems to have the right pedigree but some commentators were quick to ask why CR was getting private individuals to do the work of government.

Promises that this will be the year the fight against gender-based violence and femicide is intensified “through implementation of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF and other measures to promote the empowerment of women” just feels like so many more empty words, where action is needed so badly.

How about declaring a state of emergency on GBV, impose a curfew for all men until they all wake up and join the fight against the evil within. Code Red (FFS).

From that low note to the high note on which Ramaphosa ended his speech: a unifying plea to all South Africans to stand together in what he called “a battle for the soul of this country”.

Yo! This guy is good … at speeches.

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