ANALYSIS ON SONA 2018: Unpacking president Ramaphosa SONA 2018 Address


They say a week in politics is a very long time, South Africa this past week gave new meaning to this adage. A week that started last Sunday night with another round of meetings in what was described ‘fruitful and constructive’ engaging between Ramaphosa and Zuma ended this past Friday with a delivered SONA by a new SA president. Let us not forget it was the very SONA 2018 that became the useful tool that started the entire super-fast-tracked transition we were told would play out in agreed Tuesday meetings between the ANC president and the now resigned former President of SA. SONA 2018 is done and dusted, it was preceded by a president captured in the early hours of the morning jogging on the Sea Point Promenade pictured with welcoming South Africans whom apartheid extended an identity of white.

I must therefore make my disclaimer in the beginning, given the fact that I publicly did not support the CR17 campaign for my cited reasons,  in some circles, one may be misconstrued as opposed or overtly against the president. It is therefore important to dispense with notions of ANC 2017 campaign preferences and engage the elected president of the ANC and SA dispassionately.

Ambivalence in claims of new mood in SA 

We heard there is a new air of expectation in SA, a new mood of excitement, aided by the fact that this is a year dedicated to Nelson Mandela who would have been a full century had he continued to live and not leave our shores approximately five years ago. The parallels of a new dawn immanent in a Mandela epoch are quickly today easily drawn between today and where we were at the dawn of democracy.

Ramaphosa for many reasons became associated with this new dawn a term he also used in his address. My caution to this claim of a new air and mood in SA claim. The so called ‘upbeat mood in SA’ today cannot be one salient to the happiness of white interest in which blacks are again as in 1994 expected to underwrite this happiness. We certainly cannot assume the pictures going around of a president jogging in Sea Point and captured confirms the dawn of a new era. It shall not be that the mood in Lenyenye, Blikkiesdorp, Kwanobuhle, klipgat, Gelvandale or LeeuGamka is of less concern to that of a Sea Point promenade. Let us find out if this so called upbeat mood is also in Bizana or Koffiefontein.

Congratulations to the new State President of SA Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa for having delivered his first SONA. The annual SONA is less a constitutional directive but more a symbolic event and outline of the president in opening of parliament where an update of what was achieved over the last calendar year and a forecasting of what is anticipated in policy, programme, process and project definition is made for the new year. My personal views of our SONA format is that it in general purports too detailed in attempt of covering all the basis. It would make much more sense to afford distinct ministries to articulate these in a parliamentary setting as it directly relates to their specific areas of responsibilities and mandate. I therefore think our SONA’s must be much shorter and less detailed but more visionary in content of presentation.

To his credit President Ramaphosa delivered in a  clear, unambiguous  and concise tone SONA 2018 that saw him firmly in control of what he had in front of him in written script. Not one for philosophical citings he kept it simple and ended in a poignant and profoundly relevant reference to one of the late Bra Hugh Masekela’s songs. Ramaphosa in pragmatism and humility bound himself to what is termed in leadership spheres as a servant leadership ethos. The latter is commendable and worth celebrating.

Also, Ramaphosa is no stranger to addressing parliament in its distinct house definitions. He was therefore despite the aghast moment of a maiden SONA address relaxed and appeared in control of his speech and audience. He dealt in sophistication, tactful poise with the usual kindergarten antics of the Economic Freedom Fighters who strangely on the night behaved. They even applauded him as part of the endearing crowd. If Ramaphosa did anything tonight meaningful restoring the decor of parliament it can be said he punctured the EFF and left them looking silly. The president dealt with Malema who really is the EFF, hence the mentioning of Malema in his speech in a retort of laughter in two off the script remarks which was enough to disarm the earlier spit venom of a presser of the EFF where Malema was in his typical insulting mode. It is as if Ramaphosa understood all the EFF wants is attention, and he complied in cynical sense of jest. We must wait and see if this cordial sense of respect will prevail throughout or if the EFF today predetermined to behave in affording Ramaphosa his first unhindered address.


A continuance of the work of his predecessor

Ramaphosa in a touching sense tonight built on the work of his predecessor since 95% of what he engaged in the address, with a crossbreed of themes of matric results from 2009 to 2017, free tertiary education, jobs for the youth, the revitalisation of the economy, radical economic transformation, industrialisation and manufacturing as means for economic stimulation is what president Zuma engaged. He was therefore confirming the necessity of continuance since this work in origin is accredited to the fifth administration. It should also not be surprising since the work of the State if led by the same party ought to prove a matter of continuance.

Attempt of stepping into Mandela, new dawn and a 1994 miracle notion

Ramaphosa succeeded to speak to those who believe and yearn for the miracle of 1994, his choice of words and usage of emphasis of a ‘South Africa belonging to all who live in it’ underscores this. He inserted the subject in description of an acknowledged diversity for a SA people, though oneness of nation. This is also a strong departure from both his immediate predecessors, Zuma and Mbeki, yet direct in leaning on Mandela. We know that Zuma understood this notion of a nation as problematic when he analysed it in the perpetual race informed divides of the economic realities that pits apartheid benefactors against apartheid victims.

Mbeki gave us his two nations sharing one geographic space notion. So, for the benefactors of apartheid and colonialism who may have been starved of the sense of their inclusiveness in a SA of one nation absent for over 20 years (Mbeki and Zuma areas combined) tonight heard a semblance of Mandela rhetoric replayed not in full blast but in attempt. He ventured to find a resonance in citing Mandela’s long walk though he reminded us that it is not merely historical but points to the future. This for its  symbolism in some circles may hold value, yet in practical sense is perhaps opaque, since our youth time after time told us the 1994 we deem a unique miracle in their appreciation really constitutes a project that delivered political freedom when it equally entrenched black economic enslavement. Moeletsi Mbeki for what it is worth last week warned Ramaphosa not to attempt stepping into the shoes of a Mandela but rather be his own man. Ramaphosa will have to be aware of not getting lost in this the romanticism when he was elected on the ticket of economic redress measurable in radical economic transformation.


The call to ‘put the country first’ notion

Ramaphosa since his installation committed his presidency to that which would put the country first. We must engage the existential meaning of this claim.  This is also interpreted in a sense of patriotism, the same every society or nation desperately needs.  Again these sentiments in broad strokes bode well for those who feel ostracised in an ocean of black masses trapped in endangered species frame of minorities, yet the notion of country first warrants unpacking. It must also be read in tandem with his call for South Africa where the colour of your skin does not guarantee one unique privilege. Is this the first signal that BEE and Affirmative Action under Ramaphosa has reached its sell by date?

It would be gravely deceiving to misread the addressing of the justified needs of the black masses as not putting SA first. A logical assumption is where we as a nation violently held carceral by the demonic triplets of unemployment, inequality and poverty understood in racial diaphragm of black description consciously focus on redress of this disparity, may stand accused as not putting the country first. Who is this country we are talking about, what constitutes the notion of country? What is meant with first?

We therefore must ask what is meant with putting the country first, is this giving impetus to the choreographed narrative that often the ANC is put first at the expense of an SA? It cannot be that focussing on the majority naturally translates to working against what is good for the country. Equally we may never be hoodwinked into the idea that when we appease a small empowered forever moaning minority we are necessarily addressing the country challenges per se. Putting the country first therefore warrants unpacking and clarification for much may be lost in the translation.


I trust Ramaphosa’s call for putting the country first also reached Franschoek, the Golden South Strip of wine estate opulence and super wealth where SA’s economic benefactors live and play. A constituency that hitherto despite claiming the miracle of a 1994 consciously refused to reinvest in what made the super-rich. The South African capitalist in particular those of apartheid benefit, registers a strange phenomenon, where they unlike their worldwide counterparts refuse to invest in their own country. Instead as Gayton McKenzie’s  book ‘Kill Zuma by any means told us this group defined in a family rather summoned and threatened a Minister Mbalula how they can bring this country to its knees economically if the former president dared to remove Gordhan. Reinvesting is thus also the obligation of those who grossly benefitted from this economy in past and present and putting the country first must resonate a due responsibility to give effect to this call.  Who knows maybe foreign investment is less important if the Franschoek lot as locals can reinvest.


 A litany of Social Compacts, Task Teams and Commissions or an outsourcing of a presidency?

Ramaphosa’s SONA address on another level can be critiqued as littered with what appears a wholesale outsourcing of his presidency as understood in a litany of social compacts, commissions, summits and task teams.  Compacts are good and necessary tools in a developing society, yet compacts cannot automatically substitute presidential leadership where we are so caught up to engage every constituency in a broad conflicting reality of constituencies fuelled by appeasement until nothing is given effect to. At the end of the day Ramaphosa’s presidency like all before him is a ANC-party sponsored and anchored presidency, he thus owes it to deliver on the mandate of the party that SA has trusted to lead since 1994 with a majority. It would become extraordinary challenging to attempt to run a nation premised on a ballooning set of compacts. The need for negotiations and consensus is important but not always possible and therefore presidential leadership cannot be outsourced.  Engaging is crucial but we cannot get stuck in engaging when there is a mandate informed by policies and agreed resolutions.


The idea of a jobs summit is tired and simply do not inspire any new energy since we have NEDLAC though not uniquely meant for this and other formations where platforms for engaging the economy with the intent of job creation as cardinal focus exist. I am not sure what another job summit will do and how it will assist us when we had these before and it delivered very little. Yet, we must afford Ramaphosa space and chance to have his jobs summit.  Ramaphosa intends keeping us busy in social compacts for his tenure however long or short. Despite organised labour’s complaints, labour broking still exists and the agreed minimum wage of 3500 remains a paltry attempt at dealing with the challenges of UIP.


SOE Board appointments

Ramaphosa’s announcement on a need to relook at board appointments of SOE’s as separate from procurement on the surface registers an attempt at finding solutions to what can be considered a plague is commendable, yet the reality is wherever procurement exists the possibility of influence equally prevails. Boards naturally have influence over entities they are accountable for, you cannot demand accountability without affording influence.  It would be interesting to see how practical if at all this new thinking pans out. The recent ESKOM board appointment is not exempted from the very same claims of influence and control and proximity as the some of us already lamented. Hence, we will have to see how Ramaphosa intend giving effect in practical sense to this separation of board members from influence over procurement. Equally if the president appoints the board what loyalty may he also demand since he has power to influence the outcome of the board which may again translate to economic benefit.


Establishing a Presidential Economic Advisory Task Team

Ramaphosa with much pomp announced that he will assemble a team of economic advisors comprising business, organised labour and civil society leadership that will assist him craft an economic policy for South Africa. The idea of a consultative and advisory team is always welcomed as a necessary and useful instrument. On the other hand, it may also spell a danger since the entire policy direction may end  up as the mind of a few people who may or may not have vested interest in a particular direction. On another score we are not sure how this team will engage the party context of the ANC and its tripartite alliance to calibrate a consistent and perhaps mellifluous interpretation of an overarching policy frame devoid of  in tandem with the known ideological stances.  The African National Congress must lead on the policy formulation it cannot be that it is outsourced to the president because he is for some like USA president Donald Trump a successful business man.


Urgent attention to Leadership challenge of NPA and SARS entities

In an attempt to stop gap the claim that these sectors of the State are compromised in leadership stability and ethos, he told us he will give urgent and speedy attention to the matter of leadership at the National Prosecuting and SARS specifically. We know that the National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shaun Abrahams is under tremendous pressure, predicated on the North Gauteng High Court ruling of December which extended privilege to a Ramaphosa as the deputy president to make a final determination on a suitable candidate for the office. Hence, we can expect Ramaphosa to make an appointment and it in all probability will not be Abrahams. it therefore does not matter what Abrahams shortly decides on Zuma, he is doomed.  My personal view the NPA has from the start and through butchered any possible case and should announce it should not continue with the case.

On SARS, based on the longstanding tension that former minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan had with the SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane and the earlier mentioned as definitely returning back to cabinet as a given, perhaps not in the same position but mooted in replacing a Minister Lynne Brown, releaving Commissioner Moyane who has already reached the retirement age will be a natural choice consequence for a Ramaphosa presidency.

ANC Policy of Expropriation of Land without Compensation

Ramaphosa in a reflection on ANC policy was clear, that the agricultural sector will continue to be a focus area.  Land in this setting plays a crucial role and that land may also may be attained in expropriation as afforded by the constitution and re-emphasized by the 54th Conference must be utilised for stimulating the economy so as to ensure food security.  We know that former Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke made this point that the constitution affords for land expropriation without compensation, yet for all his time on the bench he had not once heard a case brought to test the court in pronouncement on such.


There is perhaps much made of this policy, while the 54th Conference left a caveat in this resolution when it dovetailed it with in as far as it does not compromise the economy and food security. Perhaps Ramaphosa knowing the subject of land evokes raw emotions on both sides of the racial divide, played on it in his SONA address less for its do ability but for pure sentiment, that’s what politicians do. Let us therefore give him the benefit to say he was categorical on land redress with the means included as without compensation.


State Capture and the ongoing corruption investigations

Ramaphosa informed the audience of SONA 2018 that the already announced Deputy Chief Justice Zondo Commission as established by his predecessor to ascertain the claims  of state capture will shortly get going. He also warned that the work of the Commission is not any substitute for the work of the rightful designated authorities the same we have seen in this very eventful week of February 2018 as very active, if the Vrede Astina farm case with a slew of arrests and a Ajay Gupta fugutive is used as base. Ramaphosa’s emphasis on working against corruption at all levels resonates well with all of us who believe corruption in all spheres perpetrated by anyone remains unacceptable. There ought never to be a time where anyone defend corruption regardless of perpetrator.

Though this SONA was widely tipped to be the direction pointer of economic unlocking, it in the end was feather-light on any detail of this regard. Very little light was cast on how economic growth will be attained and equally so how radical economic transformation will be attained.  I suppose this will have to wait till the Presidential Economic Task Team is finalised.  Let me not guess who all will be on that team, suffice to say expect a slew of old faces to be present, and expect the presence of the white boys club to rule the roost.

In conclusion in sentimental overall sense a positive SONA2018 address, an attempt at presenting a plan in visionary outlook.  While the details are very sketchy, on the night Ramaphosa won many hearts and he is in pound seat to structure his cabinet as his next move.  We can expect shortly, to remove those who already have been ring-fenced in claims of corruption or incompetence. I however think if he was serious about giving unity in his party a chance he may be very circumspect as to how he hopes to achieve this.  It would not be a bad sign to have Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as his deputy president, besides her having the capacity it will send a clear message in symbolism of Mandela and deputy president De Klerk government of national unity.


Let us hope this much anticipated reshuffling of a cabinet that has seen many sign of their breakfast and others pleading to be forgiven does not become the only distinctive and biggest thing of Ramaphosa contributions before a 2019 election.  President Ramaphosa is out of the proverbial sprinting blocks and must now run his race as president and warrants all our support and equal critique when needed. He is no darling neither, he is a villain, if he fails we must tell him when he succeeds we must tell him too.


Clyde N.S Ramalaine

Clyde Ramalaine
Political Commentator and Writer
Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA
PICTURE: Supplied