Sona deflection masks Ramaphosa’s leadership failures

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his last State of the Nation Address before the elections. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his last State of the Nation Address before the elections. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 10, 2024


Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his eighth State of the Nation Address (Sona). This was the last Sona under the sixth administration since the demise of apartheid in 1994.

As would be expected, the president’s address attracted both accolades and criticisms. While some reflected on the speech with emotion, others based their responses on tangible facts and were objective in their analysis.

First, the president touched on many issues which most of us had predicted that he was going to touch on.

Second, given that 2024 marks 30 years since the ANC ascended to power, it was a foregone conclusion that the president would reflect on what the ANC-led government has been able to do for the country since 1994.

Third, at an international level, it was expected that the president would talk about continental and global issues, and explain South Africa’s role in those developments.

Fourth, it was expected that Ramaphosa would sustain the narrative that he came in to fix what went wrong under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

Lastly, the president was bound to concede some of the failures of his administration but reasons for such failures – citing exogenous causal factors.

On these grounds, the president followed the script as envisaged. But what is important to note is whether the president was truthful and honest in his address. In response to this question, I will identify some issues which stood out for me.

I found the president’s address to be structurally weak. He touched on various issues but in a piecemeal fashion. What would have worked well would have been a structure which showed chronology.

He should have begun by praising the country for having sustained democracy for 30 years. Since the ANC has been leading all six administrations, the president would not be wrong to praise the ANC for having played a leading role. Logically, he could have identified some of the failures and causal factors.

Secondly, the president should have zoomed into his own administration starting from February 2018 when he completed Zuma’s term and from 2019 when his first term in office commenced. Here, he should have reflected on everything that he promised the nation, identify his successes, account for the failures, and indicate how he plans to do things differently if the ANC were to win the election in 2024. This would have presented the president as someone who is sincere, honest, and objective.

Instead, the president used this year’s Sona as a campaign strategy. This was not right since he was not in an ANC rally. His statement that those who think that the ANC will not come back are wrong confirms the assertion that the president was in a campaign mode.

What stood out from the Sona is that many of the promises made before were repeated once again. This was done contrary to compelling evidence that these were empty promises. For example, once again, the president promised the nation that that the end of loadshedding was in sight. Less than two hours later, the country moved from stage 2 to stage 3. By Friday morning, the country was hit by Stage 4. This made a mockery of his promise.

The president’s imaginary Tintswalo was a good strategy to use to paint a picture of good progress and a caring state. But the question remains, how many of these “Tintswalo” children do we have in the country? Even this chosen character, does she enjoy all the things the president claims she has enjoyed?

One example is the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Many deserving students are not approved. Some are approved, receive the money for two to three months, then it stops. Others receive the money intermittently with no explanation for the intervals. Sadly, there is no backpay. The president remained silent on where the money goes after having not reached its intended recipients.

When zooming into his administration, the president claimed that he spent time re-establishing state institutions and appointing the right people into positions. He also talked about addressing the problems caused by state capture.

In so doing, the president presented himself as an outsider. The reality is that he was part and parcel of everything that went wrong when government funds were looted. The correct language would have been for him to say that his administration was correcting the mistakes the ANC as a collective had made in the past.

Linked to the above, the president claimed that his administration had been hard at work implementing the recommendations of the Zondo Commission. He cited various amounts of money in figures which government had either recovered or was in the process of recovering.

Noticeably, he said nothing about failure to apprehend and arrest high ranking officials implicated in the report. On corruption, Ramaphosa claimed that the country is on the right trajectory. The reality is that corruption has become worse under his administration. According to the global corruption index, South Africa has moved from number 43 to 41. This means that corruption under Zuma was better than it is now. Covid-19 created a space for even more corruption!

Lastly, the president blamed external factors for his administration’s failures – citing Covid-19 and the Russia/Ukraine war, and now the Israel/Palestine war. In short, the president made critical points but packaged them incorrectly and was not objective in his analysis of the failures of his administration.

*Prof. Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL