A tough test of political dexterity
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By Bheki Mngomezulu
The first State of the Nation Address (Sona) for 2022 will pose a challenge to President Cyril Ramaphosa. It will be a test to his political leadership dexterity, which has been under scrutiny in various contexts.
I will reflect on some of the issues which should find expression in the president’s address if he has read the situation correctly. Importantly, it would be advisable for him to proffer clear and concrete solutions instead of invoking the old rhetoric that respective ministers will provide details.
First, the president should take the nation into confidence about progress made in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, he will have to brief the nation on Covid-19-related corruption cases and progress made to that effect.
Linked to the above, the president will have to reflect on the 2021 local government elections. The fact that there was no certainty about this election due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that it is of cardinal importance for the president to thank the Independent Electoral Commission, political parties and the nation for ensuring that this election went ahead despite the challenges which surrounded it.
Third, the unprecedented increased unemployment rate means that the president cannot avoid this subject. Both the January 8 statement and the Sona will always touch on this issue. But since more South Africans are unemployed, it is critical for the president to address this issue directly. Related to this issue is the slow economic growth in the country – the only way in which unemployment could be addressed.
The time for investment summits and related gatherings is over. What the nation needs now are concrete plans on how this challenge will be addressed during the 2022 – 2023 financial year. Having more business people commit to investing in South Africa is not enough. What is needed are practical steps which the government will take in order to jump-start the economy, create jobs and ensure that South African thrives. Anything short of this would make the Sona another talk show.
Fourth, the recent events which kept the entire nation and the world talking cannot escape the president’s address if he is serious about allaying fears and providing the necessary context. The burning of Parliament by a questionable suspect is one of the main issues South Africans will be waiting to hear something about from the president.
Another issue is the destruction at the Constitutional Court building by a 36-year-old man. In both instances, the alleged perpetrators reached these buildings with ease. The nation would like to know how these two incidents happened when there were supposed to be cameras and security personnel to guard these structures. If national key points are not safe, what about ordinary citizens?
What the president also needs to clarify are the points of divergence between him and Dr Blade Nzimande about what these incidents mean. According to the president, there is no link between these incidents and the attack on state institutions.
Conversely, Nzimande articulated the view of the South African Communist Party (SACP) when he stated that they were clear that there is a direct link between these incidents and July. His conclusion was that these three incidents point to the attack on the state and its institutions. The nation needs a point of convergence between the president’s thinking and that of his SACP counterparts.
Fifth, the January 8 statement is a party issue, not a national one. However, since the ANC is the governing party, it goes without saying that every South African should have vested interest in the content of the January 8 statement. What was discussed at this event also finds expression in the Sona.
Flowing from this trajectory, many of the issues that were discussed by Ramaphosa as ANC President will also be discussed by Ramaphosa as the president of the country. Among these issues will be: corruption, unity/factionalism in the ANC, etc.
The president will have his hands full. Apart from enumerating the list of problems which the country is confronted with, Ramaphosa has to give hope – not false hope but real hope that things will change for the better. This goal will only be achieved by being honest, realistic and practical. Should he fail to do this, he will open himself up for criticism by opposition political parties.
Last, this Sona will be tough for Ramaphosa because 2022 is the ANC’s leadership election year. Therefore, while casting his eyes on the future of South Africa, he will also be focusing on his own political future post-December 2022.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that the 2022 SONA will be the toughest one for Ramaphosa. He will have to be truthful to himself first before thinking about the ANC and the country.
* Bheki Mngomezulu, Professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research, UWC
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media and IOL.