Did Ramaphosa bite off more than he can chew with his 5 goals? Here are the numbers staring him down

2019-06-21 08:10
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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If you were watching President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address on Thursday evening (as we know you were), you would've heard him talk about seven priorities and "five fundamental goals" his government would focus its efforts on over the next five to 10 years.

Now, you may be wondering: "Is it five or is it seven? Is it both?"

Well, the seven priorities essentially cover the main areas any government worth its salt should be focusing on:

  • economic transformation and job creation (read the economy and employment);
  • education, skills and health;
  • consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services (read social grants);
  • spatial integration, human settlements and local government (read housing and service delivery);
  • social cohesion and safe communities (read fighting crime and not each other);
  • a capable, ethical and developmental state (read an effective government free of corruption); and
  • a better Africa and world (read foreign affairs, or international relations, as we now call it).

While these are broad areas with rather loose objectives, Ramaphosa DID give the country quite specific and real targets his administration would shoot for over the next 10 years (assuming his party wins the next election and he isn't removed by his fellow ANC members, of course). That's where the five goals come in.

The goals you CAN measure between now and June 2029 are the following: 

  • no person in South Africa will go hungry;
  • our economy will grow at a much faster rate than our population;
  • two million more young people will be in employment;
  • our schools will have better educational outcomes and every 10-year-old will be able to read for meaning; and
  • violent crime will be halved.

Let's look at what the numbers currently show in each of the five target areas and what the president will face in each one.

Hunger and poverty

In a report released last month, Statistics South Africa noted that 6.8 million South Africans "experienced hunger" in 2017. While this number is a significant drop from 13.5 million in 2002, it shows that millions of people still go hungry often and simply don't have access to enough food to meet their basic needs.

Economy growing faster than the population

The United Nations estimates that South Africa's population was almost 57.4 million in 2018, with an average annual growth rate of 1.4%. These numbers are similar to those quoted by Stats SA - 57.7 million people and a growth rate of 1.55% between 2017-2018 - in its mid-year population estimates, which were published in July last year.

In November last year, ratings agency S&P said any per capita GDP gains could be erased by population growth in 2019, Fin24 reported.

In his speech, Ramaphosa said the Reserve Bank projected that growth in 2019 was "likely to be lower than anticipated in the February budget".

When he presented his budget speech earlier this year, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said Treasury had revised its forecast for GDP growth in 2019 down from 1.7% to 1.5%.

In May this year, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) governor Lesetja Kganyago said the SARB expected GDP growth for 2019 to "average 1.0%".

The numbers aren't looking good for Ramaphosa's government.

Youth employment

Speaking at a youth day commemoration event in Limpopo just days ago, the president described the high youth unemployment rate as "a shame on our country's conscience".

And many will agree that he's justified in using such strong words when the numbers are considered.

Statistics South Africa reported that the unemployment rate among people aged 15 to 24 was 55.2% for the first quarter of 2019. It said this group was "the most vulnerable in the South African labour market".

READ MORE: 'It's not his dream, it's the people's dream' - Magashule defends Ramaphosa's SONA high hopes

From a labour force of 2 553 000 people, 1 409 000 were unemployed between January and March this year, according to Stats SA's first Quarterly Labour Force Survey of this year.

The unemployment rate in the 25 to 34 age group was 34.2% for the same quarter.

In this bracket, 2 524 000 million people were reported to be unemployed in the first quarter survey.

That's almost 4 million unemployed young people as at the end of March.

Employing two million more young people over 10 years will be a significant achievement, but it may not be enough.


The president has set the lofty goal of enabling every 10-year-old to read for meaning by 2029.

The Progress in International Literacy Reading Study 2016, the most recent in the series, found that 78% of South African Grade 4 and 5 children who took part in the study couldn't achieve basic levels of reading.

READ: 50% of children have never read a book with their parents – here's why we need to encourage reading early on

Violent crime

The murder rate is used to broadly determine how violent a society - one which isn't at war - can be considered.

Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says this is because murder "is considered to be the most reliable crime statistic, because most murders can be independently verified", Africa Check notes.

In its 2017/2018 annual crime statistics report, the police registered 20 336 murders - 1 320 more than those reported during the 2016/2017 period - and the highest nominal figure in any one year between 2008 and 2018.

But murder isn't the only violent crime many South Africans live in fear of. Rape and sexual assault remains significantly high, despite a drop in reports of both these incidents of crime since 2010.

In 2017/2018, 40 035 rapes were reported to police, down from 48 158 in 2010/2011. In 2017/2018, police opened 6 786 cases of sexual assault, while 7 006 were registered in the 2010/2011 financial year.

READ MORE: Treasury hails SONA as 'credit positive' as opposition MPs slam lack of specifics

On Africa Check, the ISS previously noted that studies showed significant trends of under-reporting of rapes and sexual crimes.

If Ramaphosa's administration is to achieve his goal of halving violent crime by 2029, it may take more than simply improving the police service, ensuring prosecutors are more effective and that the courts have the capacity to handle the caseloads for swift justice. 

In his speech, the president admits that these goals "will stretch our resources and capabilities", but he believes in achieving these targets, "we will have fundamentally transformed our society".

"We set these goals so that the decisions we take now are bolder and we act with greater urgency."

Ramaphosa has certainly taken a bold step in announcing these five goals, but he'll do well to know that merely setting big, audacious goals won't be enough to win people's hearts and minds. The people, his people, will expect change and results. His presidential legacy may depend on it.

Read more on:    ramaphosa  |  cyril

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