Analysis: Ramaphosa underlines priorities, stands firm on Reserve Bank

Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address in Cape Town. Picture: Rodger Bosch/Reuters
Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address in Cape Town. Picture: Rodger Bosch/Reuters

With the first state of the nation address taking place only four months after the first one of the year in February, it was probably too much to expect surprises or any new ideas on Thursday.

So on the day there were no surprises.

President Cyril Ramaphosa got to talk about his dreams of what the country could look like.

In the process he was shouted at by opposition MPs who said they did not pay him to dream.

Ramaphosa had urged South Africans to dare to dream and to imagine a different country.

“I dream of a South Africa where the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories.”

Ramaphosa said his dream was fuelled by conversations with ministers Naledi Pandor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

He bemoaned the fact that the country had not built a new city in 25 years of democracy.

He added that the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town and eThekwini were running out of space to accommodate all those who went to those cities.

But this did not impress some MPs who asked for more specific details.

Ramaphosa also used his speech to emphasise the independence of the Reserve Bank, whose role and mandate has been under siege from certain ANC members.

“Inflation further undermines the competitiveness of our exports and our import-competing firms, putting industries and jobs at risk. For these reasons, our Constitution mandates the South African Reserve Bank to protect the value of our currency in the interest of balanced and sustainable growth. Today we reaffirm the constitutional mandate, which the Reserve Bank must pursue independently, without fear, favour or prejudice.”

Ramaphosa had taken flak from his enemies inside the party for not implementing an ANC resolution to nationalise the bank or broaden its mandate.

But he chose the state of the nation address to speak forcefully about the bank’s independence and send a message that he would not follow a populist course on this one.

The president also committed to a 10-year agenda that no person in the country would go hungry, the economy would grow at a rate faster than population growth, two million more young people would be employed, schools would have better educational outcomes and violent crime would be halved.

However, the 10-year time period was criticised as being too far away by MPs, who felt that unemployment and crime were immediate concerns that must be tackled right away.

On Eskom, Ramaphosa had specific plans, announcing that a special appropriation bill would be tabled to allocate a significant portion of the R230 billion fiscal support that Eskom would require over the next 10 years.

“This we must do because Eskom must not be allowed to fail.”

So the speech might not have contained too many new details, but he sought to use it to underline the priorities and reiterate his commitment to fix those.

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