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Lacklustre SONA offers glimmers of hope

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address on Thursday, February 11, 2021 Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/POOL

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address on Thursday, February 11, 2021 Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/POOL

Published Feb 12, 2021

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DURBAN - The special Covid-19 R350 Relief of Distress grant is set to be extended for three more months and the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Temporary Employer-employee Relief Scheme (Ters) will be extended until March 15 for those sectors that have not been able to operate.

This was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation address last night.

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Ramaphosa said the announcements came after ongoing discussions with government's social partners in business and labour, who proposed an extension of some of the social and economic support.

"Over the past year, South Africa has experienced a sharp decline in growth and a significant increase in unemployment. Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening."

He said the R350 social grant had proven to be an effective and efficient short-term measure to reduce the immediate impact on the livelihoods of poor South Africans.

On the Ters benefit, Ramaphosa said the conditions of the extension and the sectors to be included would be announced after consultations with social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

Labour unions, while they welcomed the announcements, said the initiatives did not go far enough to address the deepening crises.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) warned that it had proposed a more permanent scheme, especially for those unemployed through no fault of their own, fearing that once the current scheme expired, it could lead to an outpouring of anger from the public.

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Ramaphosa said businesses in several sectors were still struggling and many families continued to suffer as the job market slowly recovered.

“As we rebuild our economy in the midst of a pandemic, it is necessary that we continue – within our means – to provide support to those businesses and individuals that continue to be most affected.”

Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Secretary Edwin Mkhize said it had been fighting for these two packages to be extended and in some cases to be made permanent.

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He said, for instance, workers in the alcohol industry that had been on lockdown had been suffering and deserved to be protected through the Ters scheme.

“We also wanted the president to address the issue of how the employers have behaved. There are employers that have claimed the money and not passed it on to workers and others that did not assist workers to claim.”

He said they were also not pleased that the president had not addressed the issue of how those that got the R350 were treated.

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“They have to stand in long queues, some have to go and come back several times and others sleep at the post office just to get the 350, it like messages that ’beggars can't be choosers’.”

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said while it was happy with the extensions, they fell short of what it expected.

He said the union believed R350 was too little and the money should instead be increased to R585 which is the food security level, but that did not happen.

Vavi said they had called for the grant to be replaced with an unemployment grant.

“The government will also be playing with fire in three months time. It just says to all those millions of people, ’sorry we cannot support you’ - that could lead to a groundswell of anger.”

Meanwhile Ramaphosa also commented on corruption, saying it was “one of the greatest impediments to the country’s growth and development”, using the Zondo Commission as a reference point.

“The revelations from the Zondo Commission of Inquiry lay bare the extent of state capture and related corruption. Testimony at the commission has shown how the criminal justice system was compromised and weakened. It is therefore vital that we sustain the momentum of the rebuilding effort that we began three years ago,” he said.

He said critical leadership positions were now filled with “capable, experienced and trustworthy professionals”.

“There is improved co-operation and sharing of resources between the respective law-enforcement agencies, enabling a more integrated approach to investigations and prosecutions.

“We have started implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which lays the basis for a comprehensive and integrated society-wide response to corruption. We will shortly be appointing the members of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council, which is a multi-sectoral body that will oversee the initial implementation of the strategy and the establishment of an independent statutory anti-corruption body that reports to Parliament,” he said.

Political and social analyst Xolani Dube, of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development said the promises made by the president would not bear fruit, since they had been made last year and the year before, without anything to show for it.

“(The President) talks to the same old rhetoric. We now believe there will be no elimination of corruption because Ramaphosa himself is at the centre of all the corruption that is happening. He is the head of state.

“No corruption is going to end, because (Ramaphosa) is the head of the ANC, which is the breeding ground of all the people committing corrupt acts. Can we really expect the same organisation to arrest itself?”

Reacting to the economic recovery plan, University of Zululand economist Prof Irshad Kaseeram had mixed feelings.

“A recovery plan starts with having a clear strategy about Covid-19, but only general statements were made by (Ramaphosa) about securing Johnson & Johnson vaccines. We needed more detailed time frames about phase 1 and 2 so we got a sense of when herd immunity would be reached,” Kaseeram said.

“Although the president stressed the importance of the private sector, he mentioned the usual Nedlac avenue in working with social partners. I was expecting bolder action in terms of the private public partnerships’ economic summit.

“Private-sector partnerships in investment in infrastructure, clarity around mining rights, details about broadband auctions and governance of State Owned Enterprises, including the fate of SAA” were all areas that needed exploring, he said.

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