Showing up for SA

Friday, February 23, 2024

Even if one does not usually pay attention on a daily basis to the ins and outs of government and the political landscape in the country; the flurry of activities within this domain  over the past few weeks could hardly be missed.

Invited into our living rooms have been the country’s number one citizen President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) on our TVs; various political parties responding to that Address, and then of course the President again in his reply to those debates. 

I should stop here to remind all that we will be seeing all of this again in a few months time, after the National General and Provincial Elections, as in an election year, these Parliamentary proceedings happen twice. Heads up to make plans for those TV snacks in advance!

With all of us entitled to our own views, there have been - as it should be in a robust democracy such as ours - varied responses to the President’s address which sets out deliverables for the year ahead while also setting out government’s key policy objectives. After all, the state of the country does concern each and every one of us.

While the political parties represented in Parliament responded to the SoNA on the national stage, citizens have probably expressed their opinions to each other on the train-ride or minibus taxi to work or at the dinner table.  

Others have done so on various social media platforms and in many cases expressing their frustration with the pace of service delivery.

The sixth administration which came to the helm in May 2019, has not had it easy. It is an administration that had to deal not only with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on everyday life, but also challenges SA had been facing prior to the arrival of the pandemic - such as poverty and unemployment.

However, in delivering the SoNA, and in reflecting on the last thirty years of our country’s democracy, the President said that perhaps “the greatest damage was caused during the era of state capture.”

This as the effects of state capture continue to be felt across society, “from the shortage of freight locomotives to crumpling public services; from the poor performance of our power stations to failed development projects.”

We must admit that it can’t be easy to turn the fortunes of the country around, especially one that comes from a history of inequality that is still a part of our social fabric today.

I’m not suggesting that we ought to blame the past for all our current challenges. However, as in most cases in life, the past does have a bearing on the present. No  matter how hard one tries, it cannot be ignored.

The past which excluded the majority, reminds government, said the President of the “responsibilities that freedom has placed on our shoulders to forge ahead to realise for all South Africans the promise of a better life”.

While the reference to Tintswalo, the child of democracy is in some quarters being criticised, exacerbated by challenges such as corruption, Tintswalo is no figment of the imagination.

In the eyes of some members of the public, the story of Tintswalo is one of young people unable to find work, unable to complete their studies due to outstanding fees or being held under the thumb of gender-based violence, amongst others.

unquestionably, the reality is that the Ghost of Christmas Past, masquerading itself in the form of poverty and unemployment amongst others, continues to hamper government’s efforts.

However, what remains is that the Tintswalo President Ramaphosa spoke of, is real.

Born in 1994, she grew up in a society governed by a constitution rooted in equality, the rule of law, and affirmation of the inherent dignity of every citizen.

She grew up in a household provided with basic water and electricity, in a house where her parents were likely to have lived without electricity before 1994.

While the Tintswalo of today faces a world different to that of the past, government is committed to bettering the lives of its people.

In the SoNA debate reply, the President noted that despite the contributions made at the debate, “no speaker has been able to refute the fundamental reality that the lives of millions of South Africans have been transformed over the 30 years of freedom.”

Government has and continues to make progress in various aspects of everyday life.

This includes the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, which guarantees the minimum floor below which no worker may be paid, which was introduced for the first time in the country’s history in 2019.

The sixth administration also oversaw the successful raising of the R1.51 trillion worth of investments over the last five-year period through the South Africa Investment Conference (SAIC) that the President announced in 2018.

Held annually over the past five years, the SAIC surpassed the initial R1.2 trillion target to reach the R1.51 trillion in investment pledges.

The transformation of South African lives can be found in the Census 2022 results which among others showed that access to electricity for lighting increased from 58% to 95% between 1996 and 2022 as well as 82.4% of households having access to piped water either inside their dwelling or inside their yard. 

Additionally, by November 2023, the 20 specialised South African Police Service Economic Infrastructure Task Teams that were set up to work with business, private security and state-owned enterprises to tackle illegal mining, construction site extortion, cable theft and vandalism of economic infrastructure, had made arrests.

The teams had made over 4 000 arrests for damage of critical infrastructure, 70 arrests for extortion at construction sites and over 3 000 arrests for illegal mining.

With my popcorn in hand, watching the President deliver his address, my bite on this one was clear - the journey of a better South Africa has not been perfect, but succumbing to our challenges is not an option. As South Africans, let’s continue to show up for ourselves and for our country.

Neo Semono is a Deputy Director at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)