President Cyril Ramaphosa made a good impression in his maiden State of the Nation Address (Sona) last Friday and in his reply to the Sona debate on Tuesday.
We have not seen an inspiring speech from our leaders since Nelson Mandela’s “I am prepared to die” and Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African”.
For the past nine years, we endured a period of political depression characterised by self-serving guffaws and outdated freedom song and dance from a leader who cared not about the country, but only about himself, his family and his club of corrupt business friends.
Ramaphosa’s speech was well received by everybody, even the usual dissenters – the opposition parties in the National Assembly.
For the first time in ages, we witnessed calm and visible decorum in the House. Even the rabble-rousers in the form of Julius Malema and his fellow Economic Freedom Fighters MPs sat quietly and listened to the new president.
Ramaphosa got all South Africans talking about the “new dawn” that he introduced and about his new rallying mantra – Thuma mina (Send me), which he derived from the late jazz giant and freedom fighter Hugh Masekela’s song of the same title.
On the much-feared question of the expropriation of land without compensation, he was careful to articulate the conditions that went with the ANC resolution at Nasrec.
Although populists would have liked a more radical approach on the issue, the ANC congress delegates themselves felt the process could damage the economy.
This is what Ramaphosa emphasised in his Sona and his reply to the debate. He said expropriation was one of the measures his government would use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans.
“We will need to determine, collectively, how we can implement this measure to promote agricultural production, improve food security, advance rural development, reduce poverty and strengthen our economy,” he said.
This is exactly what the ANC conference decided at Nasrec. It has not forced Ramaphosa to act on something he is opposed to, but something that the party’s highest decision-making structure realised could not be implemented willy-nilly.
At the same time, it is something that has to happen if the injustices of the past are to be addressed – what the president described as the “original sin”, the colonial theft of land from indigenous people.
Now that free tertiary education has become a reality – highlighted in both the Sona and Malusi Gigaba’s budget – shouldn’t there be efficient administration of student aid disbursement?
Often, many students suffer as a result of inefficiency by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Those in campus residences were able to remain in their places but landlords off campus were unable to tolerate late payments by students by NSFAS, which usually pays not less than three months after the tertiary institutions had opened for the academic year.
We hope these are some of the issues the new regime will address before the free tertiary education promise turns into a farce.