South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Poverty is rising, unemployment is high, the gender pay gap wide, and social problems like gender-based violence, access to education, and healthcare still persist.
President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged these challenges in his second state of the nation address (SONA) on Thursday, and pledged to build a society in which everyone has the right to life, dignity, and liberty.
Here are some key takeaways from his speech that all Global Citizens should be aware of:
1. Gender-based violence
Three South African women are killed every day by their intimate partners and, according to Africa Check, femicide in the country is five times the global average.
“We have paid particular attention to the violence and abuse perpetrated against women and children in our society,” Ramaphosa said in his address.
“We responded to national concerns and calls by many South Africans by convening a Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide that has provided a firm basis for a coordinated national response to this crisis.”
And he pledged that more work will be done.
“We will strengthen the national hotline centre that supports women who experience gender-based violence and ensure it is functional,” he continued. “Government will lead the campaign to include men and boys as active champions in the struggle against gender-based violence.”
He added: “Ending gender-based violence is an urgent national priority that requires the mobilisation of all South Africans and the involvement of all institutions.”
Now, 25 years after Nelson Mandela became the first democratic president of South Africa, the country is still unequal.
“The structure of our economy was designed to keep assets in a few hands,” said Ramaphosa. “This has stifled growth and enterprise and has to a large extent kept many young South African entrepreneurs and small enterprises out of the economy or confine them to the margins.”
He pledged to soon sign into law what’s known as the Competition Amendment Bill, which will regulate economic participation and ownership to address the country’s racially skewed spread of ownership.
Ramaphosa said: “This will give the competition authorities the ability to address this problem, but more importantly it will open up new opportunities for many South Africans to enter various sectors of the economy and compete on an equal footing.”
3. Water and sanitation
The government conducted an audit last year and found that nearly 4,000 schools had inappropriate sanitation facilities, which has proved to be fatal.
In March 2018, a 5-year-old girl, Lumka Mkhethwa, drowned in a pit toilet in Bizana in the Eastern Cape, where one in four public schools only has pit toilets. Her death came four years after 5-year-old Michael Komane’s tragic drowning in a pit toilet in Limpopo province.
“We launched the SAFE Initiative in August last year, through which we mobilised all available resources, including pledges from business, strategic partners, and the building industry to replace all unsafe toilets in public schools,” said Ramaphosa.
“Since the initiative, 699 schools have been provided with safe and appropriate sanitation facilities, and projects in a further 1,150 schools are either in planning, design, or construction stages.,” he continued. “We are determined to eradicate unsafe and inappropriate sanitation facilities within the next three years.”
Early Childhood Education (ECD) will now be managed by the department of basic education, according to Ramaphosa. There will also be two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter grade 1.
“Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device,” pledged the president.
Schools will also have tech-oriented subjects, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences, and aquaponics — which teaches how to farm fish and plants using a little water and soil as possible so it can be more sustainable.
The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which is aimed at providing free health services in associated public and private health facilities, will soon be ready for submission to parliament, according to Ramaphosa.
“We have established an NHI and quality improvement war room in the Presidency, consisting of various key departments to address the crisis in the public health system while preparing for the implementation of the NHI,” he said. “We are working towards a massive change in the healthcare experience of South Africans.”
6. Jobs and economic growth
South Africa was in a technical recession in 2018, which was caused by a decrease in the gross domestic product (GDP).
Ramaphosa noted measures already taken to increase economic activity, restore investor confidence, and support employment — including the inaugural South Africa Investment Conference in October last year, which committed to mobilise R1.2 trillion in investment over five years.
He also announced that partnerships created at last year’s Presidential Jobs Summit have resulted in agreements that will create 275,000 additional direct jobs every year.
According to Ramaphosa: “Above everything else, we must get our economy working again.”
“I call upon every South African to make this cause your own,” he said. “Because when we succeed — and of this we are certain — it is the entire nation that will benefit.”
Freedom is a big deal in South Africa. The right for all people to move freely, speak their mind, associate with whomever they choose, and for the LGBTQI+ community to live without prosecution or exclusion are only 25 years old in South Africa.
“This year, as a diverse people and as a united nation, we will celebrate one of the greatest of human achievements,” said Ramaphosa. “We will celebrate the triumph of freedom over subjugation, the triumph of democracy over racial tyranny, the triumph of hope over despair.”
He reminded South Africans about the importance of honouring the legacies of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, and asked if South Africa had yet “built a society where the injustices of the past no longer define the lives of the present?”
There’s no doubt that South Africa has made great strides in addressing past inequalities, but the challenge of ending extreme poverty in the country remains.
However, the SONA inspired hope that Ramaphosa’s presidency will bring the country closer to achieving the Global Goals.