With a life changing pandemic showing no chances of slowing down to the point of normalcy, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2021 State of the Nation (Sona) address was one which had to be ruthlessly prioritised.
Programmes to boost unemployment levels and the economy before Covid-19 reached South African shores were abandoned in the hope that social relief packages for businesses and workers would keep residents and businesses afloat.
This year’s Sona addressed Covid-19 vaccines, corruption, energy supply, unemployment and gender-based violence.
In his opening remarks, Ramaphosa said: “Just as a harsh fire gives new life to our country’s fynbos, this crisis is an opportunity to build a different, better South Africa…
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“At least once every twenty years, fynbos must burn at extremely high temperatures to allow the ecosystem to be rejuvenated and grow afresh…
“Like a wildfire that sweeps across the mountainous ranges where the fynbos grows, a deadly pandemic has swept across the world, leaving devastation in its path.
“And yet, like the hardy fynbos of our native land, we too have proven to be resilient in many ways.”
Here is a wrap of the highlights from Sona 2021:
Vaccines are coming
After the disappointment in learning that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine would offer minimal protection from South Africa’s Covid-19 variant, 501Y.V2, Ramaphosa announced that healthcare and frontline workers would be receiving the Johnson&Johnson vaccine instead.
Nine million doses have been secured, 80,000 of which are expected to arrive next week.
12 million vaccine doses have also been secured through the global Covax facility, in addition to other vaccines acquired by the African Union’s Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.
Pfizer has also committed to manufacturing 20 million vaccine doses and deliveries are expected by the end of the first quarter of this year.
A National Anti-Corruption Strategy has begun implementation, in the hopes that all facets of society and law enforcement can assist.
Members of a National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council will also be appointed soon, in addition to the existing Fusion Centre.
So far, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has investigated 164 contracts worth R3.5 billion.
Political Party Funding Act
The act, which Ramaphosa said was important to “advance transparency and accountability,” will come into operation on 1 April.
This is to regulate public and private funding of political parties, and will require disclosing donations to parties, and establishing two funds to enable parties to undertake their programmes.
Although slight improvements are being observed and additional capacity sourced from renewable energy, Ramaohosa said Eskom estimates that there will still be an electricity shortfall over the next five years.
This is because older coal-fired plants are reaching the end of their lifespan.
He did address the fact that new players should be introduced and encouraged in the energy sector, reemphasising the need for renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
He also explained that the mandates of all state-owned entities are being reevaluated, to make sure they are “responsive to the country’s needs and the implementation of the National Development Plan.”
The country’s unemployment rate stands at 30.8%, but recoveries are expected by the end of the year.
Poor households, workers and struggling businesses received R500 billion worth of relief, in addition to the 18 million people receiving additional grant payments.
R57 billion worth of wage support has been paid to more than 4.5 million workers through the UIF’s Ters scheme, and small and medium-sized businesses have been given more than R1.3 billion.
To boost job creation, an increase in local production is being encouraged, as well as an increase in infrastructure.
Ramaphosa said 42 products have so far been identified to be sourced locally, and if targets are achieved, the country could claw back R200 billion to add to its annual output.
One plan that has yielded results is the poultry master plan, which saw an R800 million investment to upgrade production. The country now produces an additional one million chickens every week.
The sugar master plan has seen sugar manufacturers getting their 80% of their product from local growers.
The first hybrid electric vehicles to come off a South African assembly line will also be realised soon, after an investment by Toyota into its KwaZulu-Natal facility.
Ramaphosa also said that to encourage entrepreneurship, “we are making it easier for business to do business,” referring to the BizPortal platform, which saw more than 125,000 new companies registered in “just a matter of hours”.
Despite Covid-19, the agricultural sector has performed well.
South Africa is now the world’s second-largest exporter of citrus, and has strong export growth in wine, maize, nuts, deciduous fruit and sugar cane.
This is due to favourable weather conditions, and provides an opportunity for more public-private partnership.
It is also an opportunity to “accelerate land redistribution,” Ramaphosa said, through land restitution and expropriation, “to boost agricultural output”.
So far, over five million hectares of land has been redistributed, which translates to around 5,500 farms, and more than 300,000 beneficiaries.
Commercial black farmers are also being engaged with to develop skills and increase their presence in the sector.
A Land and Agrarian Reform Agency will be established to “fast-track land reform,” Ramaphosa continued.
Ramaphosa said progress was being made into reducing the backlog of gender-based violence (GBV) cases.
He also said that three pieces of legislation were introduced to Parliament last year to “make the criminal justice system more effecting in combating gender-based violence”.
Government has also said it would allocate around R12 billion to implement components related to empowering women and curbing GBV, as part of its National Strategic Plan.
“We have risen time and time again from the depths of darkness to herald a new day.
“As we look on the grave damage that this disease has caused, we know that like the fynbos, like all those who have walked this land before us, we will rise again.
“People of South Africa, it is your country that calls on you to rise. Let us march forward together to equality, to dignity and to recovery.
“May God bless South Africa and protect her sons and daughters.”