OPINION | SONA 2020: An opportunity to be decisive

President Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly. (Adrian de Kock, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
President Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly. (Adrian de Kock, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

President Cyril Ramaphosa may well surprise the nation, as De Klerk did in 1990, in his upcoming State of the Nation Address and announce some truly radical changes to the South African economy, writes Wesley Seale

Brexit is hardly mentioned in the media these days.

Probably because it is done. 

On 31 January this year, the UK left the European Union and while the divorce settlement is still being negotiated the UK no longer has to participate in EU activities or send members to the European parliament in Brussels.

It is unbelievable that the hurly burly that characterised British politics in the past four years has suddenly all but quietened down. 

As the UK stood at the fork-road of history, it had to undergo some pretty nasty processes to have arrived at the sigh it can now breathe. The referendum on leaving the EU saw two prime ministers losing their premiership, two general elections and countless bills being rejected in the British parliament. 

Yet it took Boris Johnson, like him or loathe him, to present to the British people an option and it is his option they chose. 

Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, was far less clear on their option and so it could well be understood why the British people trusted Johnson, as rough as he is, over Corbyn. 

To this day, it is hard to know whether Corbyn supports Brexit or not.    

Thirty years ago, FW de Klerk had a choice. 

He could either continue on the path of his people, the one of division and destruction that apartheid brought about, or he could shed everything he had ever learned and lived and step into the unknown.

The destiny of his people, their history and their God-anointed right to rule South Africa, as they believed, was at stake. 

As the only white African tribe, the Afrikaner believed, like the Israelites of the Bible, that they were God’s chosen people and as a result were the stewards of everyone else in South Africa. 

De Klerk having been groomed, educated and cultured into this basic belief turned his back on this decades of dogma and entered into the negations with the black opposition as equal partners. 

Yet he could do so because he and the National Party still believed that they would win any free and democratic elections because they thought the people of South Africa believed that the white regime were their rightful custodians.   

President Cyril Ramaphosa may well surprise the nation, as De Klerk did in 1990, in his upcoming State of the Nation Address and announce some truly radical changes to the South African economy. 

Or he could choose to continue to pursue the path he and his colleagues have been indoctrinated with in the past three decades; economic fundamentals that have simply not yielded any considerable changes to the South African economy. 

He can present to the people of South Africa a clear, concise and concrete program, as Johnson did to the people of the UK, or he can can remain being obtuse and vague as Corbyn was. 

Yet De Klerk could pursue the path he did because he knew that he had the support of the majority within his party.

Having had replaced the sickly Botha in a palace coup, De Klerk knew that he could count on the support of the verligtes to ensure a smooth transition and pursuance of his reforms. 

The battle in the ANC is precisely that at the moment. The fight between the market fundamentalists, the verkramptes, and the reformists, verligtes, or the radical economic transformation lot.  

In fact, he may well want to surprise us, stick with the verkramptes and introduce some of the radical proposals made but in the opposite direction: privatising state-owned enterprises such as Eskom and SAA; a halt to the amendment to permit expropriation of land without compensation and re-enforcing the independence of the South African Reserve Bank and its policy making capabilities.  

At least then there would be policy certainty and clarity. 

Sadly, even the official opposition is characterised by this uncertainty in policy and therefore continues to offer South Africans no viable and credible alternative.

President Ramaphosa will have to choose who he supports and this will no doubt manifest itself in the upcoming State of the Nation Address. Or he could continue making no choice at all.

While our education and health systems as well as the fight against crime all play an important role in strengthening or weakening of our economy, it is the economy after all that impacts the most on the lives of ordinary South Africans. 

South Africa needs decisive leadership. 

The State of the Nation Address 2020, like the one of 1990, serves as an opportunity for the first citizen of our country to lead decisively and announce the changes that the our economy so desperately needs. 

We must go either way. 

We cannot continue to side-step the decisions that need to be made.

Again, as years before, many South Africans will be tuning in to listen to the SONA.

Hopefully, this time they will not be pleased by pugnacious performances but rather by the announcements of real change no matter which way it goes.  

- Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University and is currently a PhD candidate in Beijing, China 

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