SONA 2024: Cyril’s wonderland but a tragedy for Tintswalo

By John Steenhuisen – Democratic Alliance Federal Leader

The 2024 State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be the last delivered by an African National Congress (ANC) President with its own majority in the National Assembly. As South Africa eagerly approaches its 7th General Elections later this year, it will remember the five-year term from which it has emerged under President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC – a period in which South Africa has regressed, across every single metric, into a state of decay and decline that has only exacerbated inequality, placed millions more in the unemployment queue, and taken our country backwards.

None of the promises made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his last five SONA speeches have ever been kept, and not a single piece of pragmatic, workable legislation has been tabled at the National Assembly to realise Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’. The South African economy has all but flatlined, there are no new jobs, corruption is worse than it has ever been, crime is spiralling out of control, and millions of our children are starving to death.

In 2023 alone, 162 000 more people were pushed into poverty. According to the South African Reserve Bank, South Africa’s Medium Term growth expectation of 1,1% does not match the prospected 1,5% prospected population growth, meaning that South Africans continue to get poorer. According to the latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI), South Africa has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded, scoring an abysmal 41 out of 100 on this globally respected index.

By embracing the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, President Ramaphosa is taking a wrecking ball to our public health system, driving skilled doctors and medical personnel from our country, and killing South Africa’s status as a world leader in healthcare innovation. We can’t push the NHI through parliament when government cannot even afford to employ and place our existing graduate doctors. Furthermore, we cannot embrace NHI when the ANC cannot even feed our children. According to the Eastern Cape Department of Health, 1722 children under the age of five in the province were newly diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition between August 2022 and September 2023. Of these, 114 died have died.

President Ramaphosa’s recital of the story of Tintswalo, the child of democracy, makes glaring omissions of the ANC-created struggles that many in her generation now face. In South Africa today, there is a 70% chance that Tintswalo will be unemployed. There is a 50% chance that she is one of the 30 million people who live below the poverty line. Any day, Tintswalo could become one of the 75 people murdered, or one of the 115 women who are raped or subjected to gender-based violence each and every day. Should she get sick, Tintswalo may die in a state hospital that has no electricity due to load shedding. And when she opens her taps, there is no longer any water coming out. The fact of the matter is that Tintswalo’s hopes and dreams as a child of democracy have been stolen by the ANC. Far from a ‘New Dawn’, South Africa is now at a dusk of despair, but there is hope.

The SONA that South Africans can look forward to, is the address delivered by a new national government after this year’s General Elections with the Democratic Alliance (DA) at its core. For as the ANC, for the first time in 30 years, loses its national majority, South Africa is eager to embrace its coalition future. The inevitability of a national coalition means that South Africans must think not about which party will govern them, but about which values and principles will guide a new government and its policies. And South Africa is ready for new ideas, and new laws that will serve their interests and not the interests of ANC cadres.

For all President Ramaphosa’s populist posturing and policy proposals this evening, including the doubling down on state-centric policy and legislation and the arrogance of a president who is completely out of touch with ordinary South Africans, the reality is that none of these offerings are workable in the financial framework of a 6% budget deficit.

30 years of ANC national government has caused our economy to stagnate and led to significant fiscal restraint – an environment in which the ANC is now pursuing desperate and populist measures such as tapping into the gold and foreign exchange contingency reserve account of the Reserve Bank, essentially killing any economic buffer for our country against unforeseen external market shocks. This as a looming tax hike under the ANC will be the final nail in the coffin for millions of South African households struggling to put food on the table.

What South Africa needs is a complete reprioritisation of its national budget that cuts the fat from cabinet perks and a bloated public wage bill, and redirects money towards paying better social grants that meet the food poverty line, fixes our electricity crisis by embracing privatisation, invests in education, and embraces policies that liberate our economy to fast track growth and job creation.

The ANC’s hot air has now dissipated. The time has come for real change that is rooted in logical, workable ideas, and codified through sound legislation at a new and reformed parliament to be quickly enacted. The ANC cannot pretend to be the vanguard of the poor, nor the international community’s moral compass when we now have the highest youth unemployment in the world at just over 60%, and where millions more South Africans suffer without electricity, clean drinking water, or adequate housing while ANC politicians re-enrich themselves with every tender under the guise of empowerment and redress.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his last SONA in 2024, South Africa will also be waving goodbye to an ANC national government. The lesson that each and every South African has learned from 30 years of democracy is not that the ANC has served them well, but that democracy serves them well. As the tides turn against the ANC in this year’s election, South Africans will choose a new future through the ballot box to truly take our country forward.

The key takeaway from President Ramaphosa’s 2024 SONA is this: 30 years of South African democracy does not mean we should endure an eternity under the ANC. It is time for new ideas. It is time for a new government. And South Africa is ready to chart a new path under a new, DA-led coalition government that will govern with the interests of the people at heart. And when this government is elected, and formed after the 2024 general elections, so then will our country have a true, and exciting SONA to look forward to as we truly realise the vision of a free, and prosperous South Africa.

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