The South African Federation of Trade Unions is deeply disappointed, though not at all surprised, by President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address in Parliament.
It reflected his conservative, pro-business view of the world and his concern to reassure wealthy investors and credit rating agencies, rather than the poor majority of South Africans.
He seems to live in different world from the rest of the country. The speech’s the most striking feature was the total gulf between the President’s optimistic reports and expectations of economic growth and job creation and the harsh realities of economic stagnation, rising unemployment, degrading levels of poverty and increasing levels of inequality that have made us the most unequal society in the world.
There was no acknowledgment of South Africa having one the sixth highest levels of unemployment in the world and the steeply rising rate of job losses. Between 2008 and 2017 jobs were disappearing at a rate of around 350 000 a year; in 2018 a million jobs disappeared.
He talked a lot about jobs for youth, yet said nothing about the grim statistic that South Africa is occupying the infamous number one spot, with the highest rate of youth unemployment in the whole world.
He boasted about the 275 000 additional jobs promised by the Presidential Jobs Summit, but not that this is well below even the conservative National Development Plan’s 550 000 new jobs a year by 2030, and that none of these jobs have yet materialised.
Even if they do create 275 000, this will be it insufficient to cater for the annual growth in the size of the labour market, by around 2% a year, which means over 400 000 new job seekers every year. Just on these statistics the workers should realise that their situation will get even worse even if the 275 000 were to be created.
He praised the fact that South Africa has one of the world’s best social grants systems, but overlooked the fact that more and more people are forced to survive on these grants because of the rising numbers living in poverty and going to bed hungry every night.
On education he made a welcome promise to make the comprehensive ECD programme an integral part of the education system and to proceed with the process towards two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter grade 1.
But again there was no apparent recognition of the depth of the crisis in South Africa’s schools, including the fact that almost four in five Grade 4 pupils fall below the lowest internationally recognised level of reading literacy‚ and South Africa is last out of 50 countries in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.
According to a report‚ released in 2017‚ there has been no significant progress in improving children’s reading skills since the last survey five years earlier.
The emptiness of his promises to create jobs was exposed when he announced the unbundling of Eskom into three units – generation, transmission and distribution – a process which the unions have rightly agreed is a threat to thousands of jobs.
SAFTU simply does not trust that the President will keep the promise to consult unions and that the government will embark on a just transition to protect jobs. What has stopped the government from consulting workers and communities of Mpumalanga when they signed 27 agreements with Independent Power Producers (IPPs)?
Why until now they are refusing to disclose who owns these IPPs and who are the BEE partners? Why must we believe a promise of a just transition when as we speak these IPPs, subsidized by Eskom to its detriment, are threatening the jobs of up to 90 000 workers through the closure of 5 power stations?
The announcement of the unbundling of Eskom is a declaration of war. Government should except resistance from the poor and workers.
Nearly all his promises were repetitions of similar promises made by ANC presidents over the last 25 years which have never been implemented. As long ago as 2006 former president Mbeki promised to abolish all pit latrines in schools. Yet Ramaphosa now admits that 13 years later “nearly 4,000 schools still have inappropriate sanitation facilities”.
The National Health insurance scheme was first promised by former president Zuma in 2009; now, ten years later, Ramaphose announced that “after extensive consultation, the NHI Bill will soon be ready for submission to Parliament”.
On land the speech gave absolutely no clear indication of how expropriation without compensation and the return of stolen land will be implemented, and seemed to imply that only agricultural land will be affected.
On corruption, Ramaphosa seemed surprised at the revelations emerging from the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture and other commissions, which are “are deeply disturbing, for they reveal a breadth and depth of criminal wrongdoing that challenges the very foundation of our democratic state.”
How could an ANC deputy president from 2014 to 2018 be surprised at these revelations, which implicate so many members of his party and even his government?
SAFTU wishes the new NDPP well and hopes that her new directorate will finally start bringing the looters and fraudsters to justice, and will hold the president to his promise that “where there is a basis to prosecute, prosecutions must follow swiftly and stolen public funds must be recovered urgently”, but also demands that there are exemptions.
There was nothing is the speech which recognised the need for any fundamental changes in the way the country, and particularly its economy, needs to be run. There was not even any mention of the ANC’s previous commitment to “radical economic transformation” or the “second phase of the transition”.
The State of the Nation Address was an openly right-wing ‘business as usual’ speech. It reinforced SAFTU’s new that Ramaphosa is completely emeshed within the ranks of the ruling class and committed to their capitalist policies.
The federation and its allies in communities and civil society will be even more determined to mobile thousands to demonstrate outside parliament on Budget Day on 20 February 2019 and to bring the country to a standstill on 26-27 March when there will be mass marches throughout the country, to demand an end to Ramaphosa’s policies and for jobs, living wages, and an end to austerity.