STRAIGHT TALK: SONA and Ramaphosa: the night and knight of delusions

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In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa admitted that “our country is facing a stark reality”. Although he went on to sugar coat that reality, he admitted that our economy is stagnant, unemployment is deepening, and our public finances are under severe pressure.

He then noted: “We have a choice. We can succumb to the many and difficult and protracted problems that confront us, or we can confront them, with resolve and determination and with action.”

He is right. That is exactly the choice we have. Yet although he claims to be confronting the challenges, he is not.

If I were president, this is what I would do to confront our challenges:

  1. Set in motion the steps needed to resolve our energy crisis: 1) break Eskom’s monopoly entirely by opening the energy market to full competition, allowing companies and households to generate and sell electricity unhindered by the state, 2) sell off Eskom’s power stations to pay off its R450 billion debt, 3) free Eskom’s leadership to drive operational efficiencies. 
  2. Revive investor confidence by decisively walking away from expropriation without compensation and instead commit to undertaking an adequately fund land reform process as the Constitution demands. 
  3. Decisively cancel national health insurance and instead implement the DA’s Sizani Healthcare Plan which is full of practical solutions to our country’s massive healthcare challenges and won’t require additional funding or tax increases. 
  4. Unequivocally drop any notion of forcing pension funds to be invested into state-owned companies.
  5. Make a firm commitment that the Reserve Bank will not be nationalised. 
  6. Make bold changes to our labour legislation to unleash entrepreneurship and job creation. At the very least, small and medium business must be exempted from all but the Basic Conditions of Employment. Nothing could do more to create jobs for the 70% of young South Africans who want a job but can’t find one. 
  7. Commit to ending SADTU’s stranglehold on our basic education system, so that teachers can be properly trained, monitored and incentivised. 
  8. Do away with cadre deployment and BEE and instead commit that appointments and tenders will be on merit so that public money can be spent efficiently in the best interests of the poor. 
  9. Devolve SAPS powers to the provinces and metros as per international best practice.
  10. Commit to reining in the public sector wage bill, by freezing wages for all managers and administrators for three years and reduce the number of such managers earning over a million rand a year by a third. 

Some of these are quick wins and others will take time, but all of them must begin now.

Ramaphosa did not commit to taking a single one of these steps. Anyone who thinks he is confronting South Africa’s challenges is delusional. He did throw us a few bones: the commitment to add additional energy to the grid and to back the DA’s long-fought proposal to allow municipalities to procure their own power from independent producers. Both are in the ANC’s interest, since load-shedding is eroding their support and the DA has taken them to court to allow the latter and is bound to win the case.

But mostly he dished up delusions: a state bank when the post bank is already unable to do its job; a sovereign wealth fund when the government already spends R1000 million more per day than it gets in taxes; a smart city when most municipalities are bankrupt or dysfunctional or both; coding and robotics for kids who can’t read; a capable state with cadre deployment.

In all his big policy decisions, he is forced to choose between keeping the patronage taps open and building populist support for his party on the one hand and generating inclusive growth for South Africa on the other hand.

The fact is, he’s chosen to save the ANC rather than South Africa. That’s why he’s clinging to populist policies that undermine any investment credibility in the economy. He knows, for example, that NHI is unaffordable and won’t make any difference in improving healthcare.

Ramaphosa told us he chooses to confront our challenges. The fact is, he lied.

Either Ramaphosa is not the leader we hoped he’d be, or he doesn’t have the mandate from his party to confront South Africa’s challenges. Either way, it makes no difference.

It’s time for South Africans to wake up. Even if you think Cyril’s a great guy, it’s time to stop putting your hope in the ANC to save SA. It’s not going to happen.

That’s why we need to build a new majority in SA that can make these bold reforms. The DA will be at the forefront of this charge.

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