Durban — Organised business and civil society leaders believe that President Cyril Ramaphosa will have a tough time trying to lift the mood of South Africans when he takes to the podium to deliver the State Of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Palesa Phili expressed frustration over the government’s failure to act swiftly in attending to problems affecting businesses, such as the supply of water and electricity.
“We expect President Ramaphosa to announce a realistic plan with key deliverables to turn around our energy supply. We need the national government to develop an Energy Turnaround Strategy which also addresses energy distribution. This strategy must be mandatory for municipalities to implement, particularly in eThekwini,” said Phili.
She also highlighted the frequent closure of beaches due to high levels of E.coli and its impact on the tourism industry.
“According to the Durban Business Confidence Index findings, the decline in business confidence in the City of Durban may partly be associated with losses in coastal and marine tourism, and subsequent adverse spillover effects during the Christmas festivities. The tourism sector in Durban has suffered due to collapsing infrastructure and the poor state of the beaches, with the hospitality sub-sector hit the most. Tourism is one of the primary drivers of the Durban economy,” said Phili.
She emphasised that all social partners needed to work together to future-proof the economy and businesses from adverse attacks.
“We are hoping to see more emphasis placed on the protection of business property especially as we approach the election period. Following the release of the National Investigative Hearing Report into the July 2021 Unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal we have noted the failure to highlight specifically the protection of businesses. Businesses are crucial social partners,” Phili said.
Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business Chief Executive Officer Melanie Veness echoed Phili’s sentiments over the level of disillusionment with the state of the nation.
She said some key areas that could help in restoring business confidence would include:
- Trimming the cabinet from its current size and redirecting the rest of those funds towards infrastructure.
- Dealing decisively with corruption by removing all the ministers that have been implicated and
- Making a commitment to deal decisively with dysfunctional municipalities.
“We would like to hear the president saying these are the names of those responsible for coordinating and leading the July insurrection in KZN and Gauteng, they’ve been arrested and will face the full might of the law; and this is a list of successful prosecutions from evidence presented at the Zondo Commission and we’ve recovered so many billions of taxpayer’s money,” said Veness.
Political analyst Daniel Silke noted that traditionally such an address gave the president a chance to present a positive view of the country by highlighting some successes, and the 2024 address holds greater meaning because it is an election year. He added that citizens will be looking for an upbeat message from Ramaphosa on some of the successes by his government over the past five years.
“The president will certainly try to claim certain success in State Owned Enterprises, the turnaround at Eskom and lower levels of load shedding, the potential for some infrastructure projects, all this will be used as a positive side of the equation,” said Silke.
He pointed out however that with less than six months to go before the term of the current government ends, the commitments would be more of promises than practical solutions to the problems.
University of KwaZulu-Natal political analyst Siyabonga Ntombela said Ramaphosa was likely to focus on the economy and how it would benefit young people as one of the key areas, noting how they were affected by unemployment.
“Given that we are going to the elections he needs to drive a message that will make young people believe in the ANC,” said Ntombela.
He added that Ramaphosa was likely to highlight how the National Students Financial Aid Scheme had enabled greater access to higher education for many young people and the Social Relief Grant which the government was still providing even after the Covid-19 pandemic.