5 Things You Should Know From President Ramaphosa’s Speech on Tackling Poverty and Inequality in South Africa
“Our future is greater than our past.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa used his first state of the nation address (SONA) after the general election to recommit his government to ending extreme poverty by 2030.
Noting that even though “much” has been done to “to reduce poverty and to transform a devastated economy that was built to serve the interests of the few”, Ramaphosa acknowledged in his speech on June 20 that South Africa is experiencing “an extremely difficult and challenging time.”
The country was recently reported to be the most unequal in the world. “Yet,” Ramaphosa added, South Africa is “also at a moment in our history that holds great hope and promise.”
“Let us agree, as a nation and as a people united in our aspirations, that within the next 10 years we will have made progress in tackling poverty, inequality, and unemployment,” he said.
Here are five key points from his address, looking at how South Africa aims to achieve the UN’s Global Goals — addressing issues like food & hunger, education, health, water & sanitation, and gender equality — by 2030.
1. No person in South Africa will go hungry
A 2018 survey by the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination found that 28% of households in urban areas are at risk of hunger, and 26% are already experiencing hunger.
Meanwhile, 32% of rural households are at risk of hunger and 36% are already experiencing hunger.
Ramaphosa said in his SONA speech that his government has 10 years to end hunger.
“Our determination that within the next decade no person in South Africa will go hungry is fundamental to our effort to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality,” he said.
He added: “In addition to creating employment and other economic opportunities, this means that we must strengthen the social wage and reduce the cost of living.”
2. Economic growth
South Africa entered into a technical recession in 2018 when the gross domestic product (GDP) decreased.
The economy is still reeling and unemployment, a long-term crisis, increased to 28% in the first three months of 2019.
Ramaphosa acknowledged this problem, saying: “Our economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created. This is the concern that rises above all others; it affects everyone.”
He said the government is “intensifying (our) investment drive”, including the creation of projects worth R250 billion, out of the R300 billion of investments that were announced at last year’s inaugural Investment Conference.
Ramaphosa added that the private sector has committed investments worth R840 billion to 43 projects that will together create 115,000 jobs in the next five years. He also pledged that there will be increased trade within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
3. Youth unemployment
Youth unemployment in South Africa is believed to be one of the highest globally. “The youth aged 15-24 years are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market,” Statistics South Africa says on its website.
An estimated 55% of people aged 15 to 24 were unemployed in the first quarter of 2019. The unemployment rate for the first three months of 2018 was 31%.
Days before his address, Ramaphosa called youth unemployment “a shame on our country's conscience”.
In his SONA, he added: “The fact that the unemployment rate among young South Africans is more than 50% is a national crisis that demands urgent, innovative, and coordinated solutions.”
“And because more young people are entering the labour force every year, the economy needs to create far more jobs for youth than it currently does merely to keep the youth unemployment rate steady,” he said.
He pledged to create 2 million jobs over five years through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), the Youth Employment Service (YES), and the National Youth Service (NYSP).
“The brutal reality is that when it comes to youth unemployment, we have to run just to remain in the same place,” he said.
4. Improve education
South Africa’s primary education system was ranked 126th out of 138 in the 2016-17 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, and almost 80% of grade 4 students in the country can’t read for meaning.
Ramaphosa pledged to improve early reading through “a massive reading campaign.”
He added that all foundation and intermediate phase teachers will undergo training, and that the government will expand its Early Grade Reading Programme (EGRP).
Two months ago, Global Citizen launched the #RaiseTheGrade campaign calling on the department of basic education to roll out the EGRP to 500 schools in each of the nine provinces by 2020. Global Citizens have already taken more than 16,200 tweets, quiz, and petition actions in support of the campaign.
Ramaphosa said the government's reading campaign is part of various efforts aimed at strengthening the basic education system in the country, including introducing coding and data analytics at a primary school level.
5. Halve violent crime (at least)
A 2018 survey by the Human Sciences Research Council found that 79% of South Africans rank crime as their top concern after unemployment.
“The South Africa we want is a country where all people are safe and feel safe,” Ramaphosa said. “Let us therefore work together to ensure that violent crime is at least halved over the next decade.”
He said this will be done by increasing police visibility and employing more policemen and women. He also asked communities to work through community policing groups to monitor crime in their neighbourhoods.
He added: “Currently, there are over 5,000 students registered for basic training in our police training colleges and we envisage that this number will be increased to 7,000 per cycle over the next two intakes.”
He noted that the criminal justice system also needs to be improved, saying: “We are working to improve success rates in investigating and prosecuting crimes, and to ensure better training and professionalisation throughout the criminal justice system.”
Ramaphosa also added that the government will be stepping up its fight against drug syndicates and gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide.
“We are capacitating and equipping the police and court system to support survivors of gender-based violence,” he said.