Mmusi Maimane: This is the moment for leadership, Mr President

President Cyril Ramaphosa, First Lady Tshepo Motsepe and then Speaker of the National Assembly,  Baleka Mbete, at last year's State of the Nation Address. (Nasief Manie, AFP, file)
President Cyril Ramaphosa, First Lady Tshepo Motsepe and then Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, at last year's State of the Nation Address. (Nasief Manie, AFP, file)
That point is now. We expect action, we expect 365 days of momentum towards fixing the country. We don't need another story. We actually can't afford another talk shop SONA, writes Mmusi Maimane

There is a genuine feeling in our country that the clock is ticking and we are running out of time.

It’s the feeling you get when the lights are out, a crime is reported and another young person is roaming the streets without work. It is, to use a football term, referees optional time, the moment that only the referee knows when the game is up and regulation time is over.

Our referee, the President, must now act for the honeymoon is over.

The tides have shifted dramatically for President Ramaphosa since his much celebrated “thuma mina” SONA address two years ago.

As he comes to address the country this year the Ramaphoria has subsided, in its place is a growing Ramaskepticism.

Legitimate questions are being asked of the President globally and locally.

The “new dawn” has turned into a “false start”.

CNN's Richard Quest not only captured the global disappointment, but also the local disappointment with the President and his administration.

It is crunch time, it's time SA takes a decision and acts to change the narrative about our country.

For two years we have heard the President express how “shocked” he is about the different challenges facing the country.

This will no longer be enough.

For two years we have heard announcements of summits (a repackaging of the lekgotla approach of the old ANC).

We will not buy into more summits at this point, we need action. For two years we have heard that there is a plan in motion, that the NDP will be implemented more effectively.

This will no longer cut it. The problem with promising amazing things every year is that at some point people will want to cash the cheque.

At some point more promises and spinning the narrative on the national moment are going to be rejected. That point is now. We expect action, we expect 365 days of momentum towards fixing the country. We don't need another story.  

 We actually can’t afford another talk shop SONA.

The World Bank has projected our economic growth for 2020 at an anaemic 0.9%.

In comparison Rwanda is projected to grow at 8%.

Our youth unemployment rate is incredibly high. 

Moody's rating agency is on the edge of downgrading the country to junk status on the basis of challenges in our state-owned enterprises. So, all our decisions must respond to how we create jobs and a safer South Africa.  

Decision 1: We must act on Eskom. The decision must be made to open the grid for more power generation. That the ideological straight jacket of nationalisation of SOE’s must end and an aggressive focus on renewables is the future. This must ensure that South Africa becomes a global African player in the generation of renewable energy.  

Decision 2: Must be about SAA, an equity partner must be included and an administrative revamp must be rolled out aggressively. We know from the region that an airline can be profitable and well managed.  

Decision 3: Introduction of a schooling programme that will allow for good teachers to be rewarded, bad teachers to be fired and the undue influence of unions to be reduced. We should not wait any longer. We need to deploy the army to provide security at schools. Schools should be gun free, knife free and bully free.  

Decision 4: Restructure the public service that a cap on the number of people employed and limitation of how much money people at the top are paid., That there is a limitation of increases.   

Decision 5: Legislative certainty, an indicator of how laws like EWC, Labour and Prescribed Assets are implemented. We need urgent reforms to our visa regime. Let's make sure that countries whom we have bilateral relations with can get visas into our countries without any applications. Let's scrap cumbersome laws and regulations. 

Decision 6: Technology as a driver of innovation is critical. This will be disruptive in the broadcast space. A decision on spectrum allocation is vital so these new industries may thrive., Lets open up our spectrum, allow private industry to be have access without creating another SOE. Technology is disrupting several other sectors. We need to be focused on jobs. The shutting down of Dion Wired is a reflection of the vulnerability of the retail sector in particular. We need to retrain all the workers in that sector as a matter of urgency. Podcasts, Netflix, YouTube, TikTok have disrupted media consumption. We need urgent reforms to the SABC, this applies to both radio and TV. A president with his eye on the ball would be presenting plans to the nation on how to keep jobs in our broadcasting and entertainment sector. We need to be focused on creating an infrastructure that will take us into the future.  

Decision 7: We need a genuine safety plan. One that deals decisively with the SAPS leadership. At the core, we must bring policing to a regional level. The work in parliament must begin urgently if we are to safeguard our citizens.  

Massive decisions that will not sit well with alliance partners or various sectors, but leadership is decision making. He/she who decides leads. This is the moment for leadership. 

The President was pitched as a business savvy leader who would be able to run an efficient administration.

However, at a party level this efficiency is not being witnessed, in fact the party is more divided than ever. Within the ANC, factional actors frequently challenge his captains with no fear. There are whispers that the NGC may be a springboard for his recall. 

The president must demonstrate a win in his own party. Show that he will act against anyone, especially those who have been corrupt. SONA gives an indicator about how serious the prospect of building a capable state is and destroying patronage politics.  At the state level there has been no evidence of the efficient administrator we were sold.  

It is more likely going to be the same old, same old. I would like to hear SONA that would make management gurus happy, one with SMART goals, one with clear project scopes and project plans. In 2018 the President identified youth unemployment as a key challenge he wanted to tackle, in order to do that not only does startup funding need to be made available, but additionally reforms in basic education need to be implemented rapidly.

Our performance in maths and science is well behind where it needs to be in order to compete and secure jobs of the future. 

While I hope these matters get addressed realistically, I am not excited for this speech.

Personally, I don’t look forward to SONA speeches anymore in the grand style. and dress ups, I don’t think any of us actually should at this point because it has historically proven to be a talk shop with no real substantive directions at time.  

I mean going back to the old SONA addresses, promises made are often not achieved. .  

The real direction is going to come from the budget speech.

The nuts and bolts are there.

I look forward to the budget this year because it will give us a more honest assessment of the direction this administration is taking.

As they say, numbers don’t lie.

The budget speech will tell us more accurately if we are really at risk of being downgraded. We will know this based on what allocations are made to the at risk SOE’s.

We will know what fiscal policy is being implemented, whether it is one that is in line with the market supporting faction of the party as represented by the President, Tito Mboweni or one that is in line with the rival factions of the ANC.   

They say that the devil lies in the detail, in our political climate those details are not in the SONA, they are in the budget.

After all, numbers do not lie. The budget will reveal how strong the president is internally. 

Our task now, is to work together to build a South Africa for all.  

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