President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his third state of the nation address (SONA) at South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town on Thursday night.
Attended by members of parliament, civil society organisations, and activists, the SONA is one of the biggest addresses that the president makes to the nation — traditionally in February — to tell South Africans what his plans are for the year.
He also uses the address to report back on the progress that’s been made in the period since the last SONA — in this case, the address he made in June 2019.
This year, Ramaphosa pledged to keep working on finding solutions to South Africa’s economic woes, including the high unemployment rate.
He also referenced the 30-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s historic release from Victor Verster prison — on Feb. 11, 1990 — which came just a few days before his address. Ramaphosa said that, while progress has been made, South Africa remains unequal, but hopeful for change.
“As we continue our onward march to improve the lives of our people, as we confront great challenges, as we endure troubled times, we too cannot allow fear to stand in our way,” he said.
Ramaphosa again mentioned the country’s economic slump, as well as financial and administrative problems that have led to the persistent energy shortages known as loadshedding. Loadshedding happens when Eskom — South Africa’s national supplier of electricity — routinely disrupts power supply.
He said that the South African economy “has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade”, and highlighted issues like the persistent energy shortages as being disruptive of businesses, economic recovery, and people’s lives.
“It is you, the people of South Africa, who carry this burden, confronted by rising living costs, unemployment, unable to escape poverty, unable to realise your potential,” Ramaphosa added. “We need to fix our public finances.”
Here are some key takeaways from Ramaphosa’s speech that all Global Citizens should be aware of:
1. Youth unemployment
Young people in South Africa continue to be the most affected by the country’s high unemployment rates. A report by Statistics South Africa found that the unemployment rate among those between 15 and 64 years old increased to 29.1% in the third quarter of 2019. In his address, Ramaphosa called youth unemployment a “crisis”.
He said: “Of the 1.2 million young people who enter the labour market each year, approximately two-thirds remain outside of employment, education, and training. More than half of all young people are unemployed. This is a crisis.”
Ramaphosa said the country needs to work for young people, and create ways for young people to be economically active. “As from today, we begin the implementation of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention – six priority actions over the next five years to reduce youth unemployment.”
He said the government is working on “cutting-edge solutions” that will help them reach young people online and in real life.
“This will allow them to receive active support, information, and work readiness training to increase their employability and match themselves to opportunities,” he said.
Actions include shorter courses and an education system that empowers young people with relevant, in-demand skills. He also said the government is going to scale the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme. YES was launched in 2019 to help unemployed young people get jobs in the private sector.
Ramaphosa added that his office is also establishing a Presidential Youth Service Programme to help connect young people to economic opportunities.
“We will lead a youth employment initiative which will be funded by setting aside 1% of the budget to deal with the high levels of youth unemployment,” he concluded.
2. Climate change
The impacts of climate change have become a reality in Africa, where droughts and excessive rains have already started causing food insecurity and water shortages.
Ramaphosa said in his speech that he had met with 18-year-old South African climate activist Ayakha Melithafa a day before delivering his SONA.
“Ayakha asked me to make sure no African child is left behind in the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient, and sustainable society,” Ramaphosa said.
He added: “It is a promise I intend to keep."
Ramaphosa added that South Africa will take decisive action against climate change through the Climate Change Bill, which is currently being finalised by parliament.
The bill outlines actions that need to be taken to ensure that South Africa is both tackling the causes of climate change, and is resilient to its impacts.
This, Ramaphosa explained, includes effective management of the impacts of climate change; strengthening South Africa’s capacity to tackle climate change; and reducing the country’s vulnerability to climate change.
The bill was first taken to parliament in 2018, and Ramaphosa’s current push to finalise the bill comes at a critical time for the country.
A report by public health journal Globalization and Health, published in March 2019, states: “It is increasingly apparent that delays in responding to climate change over the past decades have jeopardised human life and livelihoods [in South Africa].”
3. Gender equality and gender-based violence
Women’s rights are also on Ramaphosa’s agenda for 2020, In particular increasing economic participation and tackling gender-based violence.
“The empowerment of women is critical to inclusive economic growth,” Ramaphosa said. “We are introducing the SheTradesZA platform to assist women-owned businesses to participate in global value chains and markets.”
It’s hoped that SheTradesZA will help raise R10 billion to fund women-empowered businesses. Women are also included in the group of marginalised people set to benefit from land expropriation, which seeks to restore land ownership to previously excluded groups.
Ramaphosa said 44,000 hectares of state land has already been released and used for the settlement of land restitution claims. He added that 700,000 hectares of state land will be released in 2020 alone for agricultural production.
“We are prioritising youth, women, people with disabilities, and those who have been farming on communal land and are ready to expand their operations for training and allocation of land,” he said.
Ramaphosa added, meanwhile, that the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) is ongoing.
“We implemented an emergency action plan and reprioritised R1.6 billion to support [the] plan [against GBV] until the end of the current financial year,” he said.
He further confirmed that the Domestic Violence Act is in the process of being amended to allow for better protection of victims of domestic violence. The Sexual Offences Act is also being broadened to include more categories for sexual offenders, which includes updating the National Register for Sex Offenders.
“We will pass a law to tighten bail and sentencing conditions in cases that involve GBV,” he pledged.
Ramaphosa added that his tenure as the chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which is the self-monitaring arm of the African Union (AU), would help tackle gender-based violence across the continent. Ramaphosa's 1-year tenure started in February 2020.
“The AU Heads of State have pledged their support for measures to end GBV on the continent, and will work towards the adoption of an AU Convention on Violence against Women during the course of this year,” Ramaphosa said.
4. Urban population and housing
“The cranes and yellow equipment that we have longed to see across the landscape of our country will once again soon be an everyday sight,” Ramaphosa said in his address.
The president was referring to plans to overhaul housing as it’s currently experienced in the Gauteng province. The economic capital of South Africa, Gauteng, and particularly Johannesburg, has a challenge with housing.
Ramaphosa said a social housing programme that’s aimed at building affordable rental housing for families with low-income is being implemented. The programme, Ramaphosa added, has the potential to raise R9 billion of private investment to build 37,000 rental apartments.
He also said an additional R68 billion will be spent in the coming years to boost student accommodation nationally.
“The young people who are at university and TVET colleges face serious accommodation challenges,” he said. “Some do not even have places to sleep after lectures and resort to sleeping in libraries.”
He said the building projects are ready to start.
Ramaphosa also added that a part of Lanseria in the south of Johannesburg is being turned into a “smart city” that will accomodate 350,000 to 500,000 people in the next decade.
He said the process is being led by the Investment and Infrastructure Office in The Presidency, as well as the provincial governments of Gauteng and North West.