Easy does it, say analysts as Ramaphosa prepares for Sona

08 February 2021 - 07:00
By andisiwe makinana AND Andisiwe Makinana
President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver his fifth state of the nation address this week.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver his fifth state of the nation address this week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver his fifth state of the nation address this week, and analysts are suggesting that he stick to the basics.

This year's Sona will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that has killed about 46,000 people in the country. It will be attended by less than 50 MPs in the chamber with none of the grandeur associated with the event.

The address, which sets out the government’s programme for the year, has over the years been criticised for being aspirational but without substance.

Ramaphosa's first Sona in February 2018 came two days after Jacob Zuma resigned. He was buoyed by the so-called “Ramaphoria” — a euphoria that came with his election as ANC president amid a promise of a new dawn.

The following year, he told the country of his dreams of bullet trains and smart cities.

We should imagine a country where bullet trains pass through Johannesburg as they travel from here to Musina, and they stop in Buffalo City on their way from eThekwini back here.

Has the time not arrived to build a new smart city founded on the technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution? I would like to invite South Africans to begin imaging this prospect,” said Ramaphosa in June 2019.

But analysts have said that it is time to change the tone.

This should be a Sona of basics, not a high level Sona of grandiose and dreams,” said Lukhona Mnguni.

“We are not going to get a smart city now, we are not going to get a bullet train now and that's OK,” said Mnguni, a political analyst from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Mnguni said Ramaphosa's difficult task will be to try to differentiate Sona from all the other addresses he has been giving.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these addresses have largely been virtual, whether the president was addressing the World Economic Forum, the Mining Indaba, the ANC's NEC lekgotla or the “family meetings” on the pandemic.

Basically, there is an oversupply of the president on our screens,” said Mnguni, adding that all these addresses are related in a way to the Sona as they unpack one aspect or another that affects the country.

This makes it tricky for the Sona, because how does he make sure he differentiates the Sona and captivates South Africans?”

His wish was for Ramaphosa to reassure South Africans on two fronts — timelines for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and a practical plan on how he is planning to revive the economy during a pandemic when it seems the attraction of foreign direct investment is not coming at the pace that was anticipated.

That the phase one and phase two of the vaccine rollout have no timeline, takes away from the credibility of the process because it opens up space to say no-one can be held to account.

We need time lines and we need clear chains of command so that we can be able to hold somebody accountable,” said Mnguni.

He said while the vaccine rollout is a panacea, this kind of certainty is important as it reassures the citizenry.

For Louw Nel, a senior political analyst at NKC African Economics, most analysts will look to finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech later this month to get a real idea of the state of the nation and the government’s spending priorities.

Louw's Sona expectations are low.

We anticipate a lot of aspirational but ultimately vapid language rather than concrete proposals or earth-shattering announcements,” he said.

He suspected that the president, who has been addressing the nation a great deal since the start of the pandemic, will deliver a grander and longer version of the same.

Stripped of the pomp, ceremony and fawning applause from the ANC benches, the president will need, but probably fail, to present bold proposals to shore up his diminishing credibility,” said Nel.

With elections only seven to nine months away, he will want to convince everyone that the fight against the pandemic is being won and the economy is rebounding, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Sona is scheduled to take place this coming Thursday evening through a hybrid system with less than 50 MPs and Ramaphosa in the house, while the rest will connect virtually.