Cyril Ramaphosa arrives to deliver his State of the Nation Address at Parliament in Cape Town. Picture: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
Cyril Ramaphosa arrives to deliver his State of the Nation Address at Parliament in Cape Town. Picture: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
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Parliament - Calling the reality of South Africa's economy and rampant unemployment "brutal" in his opening address to the sixth Parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to key objectives, in particular those in the National Development Plan, and said a future of active change was needed. 

"We gather here at an extremely difficult and challenging time in the life of our young democracy," Ramaphosa told Parliament.

"Our economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created. This is the concern that rises above all others. It affects everyone." 

He added that economic growth would be hollow unless it were to reduce youth unemployment of some 50 percent.

"The fact that the unemployment rate among young South Africans is more than 50 percent is a national crisis that demands urgent, innovative and coordinated solutions," the president said. 

"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. 

"The brutal reality is that when it comes to youth unemployment, we have to run just to remain in the same place. 

Ramaphosa promised that the government would proceed, without delay, to implement a plan that could create two million new jobs for young people within the next decade.

He was equally frank about Eskom, acknowledging that the power utility was at risk of defaulting on its government guaranteed debt obligations because it only had enough money to last until the end of October.

Ramaphosa said a special appropriations bill would be tabled to release a significant percentage of the R230 billion in relief allocated to it over a decade, in the short term.

"For Eskom to default on its loans will cause a cross-default on its remaining debt and would have a huge impact on the already constrained fiscus. 

"We will therefore table a Special Appropriation Bill on an urgent basis to allocate a significant portion of the R230 billion fiscal support that Eskom will require over the next 10 years in the early years. 

"This we must do because Eskom is too vital to our economy to be allowed to fail."

Ramaphosa said state-owned entities, after years of corruption scandals, would be positioned and aligned to ensure they boosted the economy and promised a new focus on a capable, etchical state, with money wasted on graft recovered.

After the economy, he listed education as the second priority, followed by reliable social services, spatial integration and housing, as well as reducing violent crime by half in a decade by growing the police force. 

"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."

"It is through our actions now that we will determine our destiny. As South Africa enters the next 25 years of democracy and in pursuit of the objectives of the National Development Plan, let us proclaim a bold and ambitious goal, a unifying purpose, to which we dedicate all our resources and energies."

After listing the need to fix these imperatives, Ramaphosa returned to the sweeping sentimentality of his first two State of the Nation Addresses, calling on South Africans to dream bold and suggested building a new "smart" city to deal with growing urbanisation.

Land and housing were the starting point of his address, with Ramaphosa saying the ravages of the 1913 Native Land Act lingered on.

"While we have made great progress in providing housing, many South Africans still need land to build homes and earn livelihoods. In the next five years, we will accelerate the provision of well-located housing and land to poor South Africans," he said, without giving further detail.

Opposition leaders Mmusi Maimane from the Democratic Alliance and Pieter Mulder from the Freedom Front Plus said Ramaphosa vision resembled a dream to a nation living a nightmare.

African News Agency (ANA)