Haven’t seen someone for a long time? Didn’t reach your targets? Left a promise unfulfilled? Covid’s lockdown rules and regulations are probably or at least partly to blame, aren’t they? While excuses are often seen as a weak way out of a tricky situation, the Covid excuse is relevant. It did change our world. It was often the reason why things didn’t work out according to our schedules and strategies. But, it is also an easy scapegoat.
The 2021 State of the Nation Address could not have been an easy speech to write. Unemployment stands at 30.8%. Close to 1.5 million South Africans got sick from the global pandemic in the past year. The first attempts at the vaccine rollout didn’t go smoothly. The plans for economic stimulation didn’t materialise in 2020 – in fact, there was a sharp decline in growth and we had to pay an unplanned R57 billion in wage support through the special UIF TERS scheme and R1.3 billion to small businesses. Many of these as a result of Covid, of course. And while Covid can take much of the blame for the fact that the promises of the 2020 SONA have not realised, it is also not the entire reason.
We were in trouble long before Covid. Unemployment was in the late 20’s. Economic junk status, inequality, poverty, crime – they were all very much part of our reality. Because I have no experience of governing a country, I try to give myself perspective by comparing it to running a company. It might not be entirely fair, but there are notable similarities. For a company already facing financial or operational difficulties, 2020 could’ve been a disaster. Perhaps there were no budget or savings. Perhaps international tourism was the sole stream of income.
Covid is a real challenge and a valid excuse – even in countries with strong economies and ignorable corruption and even to companies with resources. It is hard to stimulate growth and fulfil promises when you are in lockdown and when you have to support in unexpected ways – especially when the challenge is of a health and humanitarian nature. But having an excuse does not solve the problem, it does not pay the bills or salaries. We have to adjust, think on our feet, make new plans, face a new reality – whether this means starting from afresh or adjusting the current offering.
There is some comfort in having a long term strategy. Covid challenges that. The health threat hasn’t gone away and while we hope that the vaccines will change the landscape, it’s undeniable that we are not living in the same world as a year ago. There is also still plenty of uncertainty about the year ahead. In his SONA address, President Ramaphosa concludes that the crisis gives us the opportunity to build a different and a better South Africa. Here are some of the key take-aways.
- Overcoming the pandemic with a scientific approach.
- Successful implementation of a vaccination programme (secured 12 million doses of Covax vaccine and 9 million doses of Johnson and Johnson of which 80 000 to arrive next week, followed by another 500 000 in the next month).
- A general strengthening of the health system, something that has been a long-standing concern.
- Feedback: R350 grant lifted 5 million people above the poverty line / R57 billion in wage support paid to over 4.5 million workers through UIF TERS scheme / R1.3 billion provided to small businesses.
- Need to focus on four pillars of recovery – infrastructure, local production, jobs, energy.
- R100 billion Infrastructure Fund is now in full operation.
- The draft master plan of Lanseria smart city project is open for public comment.
- Industrialisation must be an effort between labour, business, government and communities.
- BEE implementation still the focus in addressing inequality and has to be accelerated.
- Support both own and business to business enterprises.
- Job creation – private sector remains primary source, but even public sector has to stimulate job creation. 430 000 jobs have been supported through the presidential stimulus.
- Making up for disruption in education and schooling will be a priority this year.
- Energy is central to our economy and Eskom’s performance is of the essence. Without additional capacity, Eskom will fall short. Has been restructured and focusing on maintenance to improve reliability. Focus on reducing Eskom’s dependence on the fiscus – requires a tariff review.
- Alternative, independent and renewable energy sources are important. Municipalities can source from independent producers. An additional 11800 kW of power is available from renewable energy and more will be required from wind and solar energy.
- Working hard to ensure zero gas emissions by 2050.
- Hope to complete analogue switch off of tv transmitters by end of March 2022.
- Have to appoint agency to focus on water challenges.
- Rail corridor from Gauteng is being extended to allow export of vehicles from PE. Durban to become hub port for Southern hemisphere.
- Exceptional performance of agricultural sector in 2020.
- Land redistribution to be fast-tracked.
- Local government needs serious focus on qualified appointments and effective service delivery.
- The extent to which criminal justice system was compromised as well as state capture and related corruption were exposed by Zondo Commission of Inquiry.
- We must sustain the momentum of rebuilding – great progress in turning around law enforcement bodies and appointment of trustworthy and capable individuals in critical leadership positions.
- Started implementation of anti-corruption strategy with integrated response.
- New National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council will report to Parliament.
- PPE Corruption is being addressed and millions have been recovered.
- Political funding act comes to effect on 1 April 2021.
- Task force to focus on crimes hampering economic activity.
- Will actively curb illegal immigration and border crime.
- Reducing the backlog on Gender Based Violence cases is a priority and ending it altogether is imperative. R128 million raised for this effort through global philanthropists.
- Extending special R350 Covid grant period for another three months.
- Extending TERS benefit until 15 March for sectors who were unable to open or operate.
Thank you to Mandy Wiener for an exceptional summary of the SONA address.