The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), like most South Africans, has lost hope in the ability of President Cyril Ramaphosa, his ANC led government and the capability of the capitalist system to address the most basic needs for the poorest of the poor. Therefore, the ritualistic State of the Nation Address (SONA) promises no quick fix for the country.
SONA is merely going to echo and transmit plans that are drawn directly from the economic framework of the ruling class and its politically implementing organ, the ruling party. The African National Congress is committed to neoliberal capitalist economic framework, premised on driving structural reforms in favour of private capital.
Government is committed to “creating an enabling environment i.e., the state underwriting risks and providing the market to help capitalists invest with guaranteed profits. Instead of driving a developmental agenda, government only sees its role as an enabler for private capital. The fiscal austerity that is being carried with absolute brutality flows from this premise: make a space for private enterprises to occupy and turn every space as a site for capital accumulation.
In addition to the economic framework that channels the wealth into a tiny minority at the expense of the majority of working people i.e., capitalism, corruption that has festered and is entrenched in the ANC government, loots the little that is allocated from the neoliberally incised budget.
Despite our lack of confidence, we nonetheless would like the SONA to address the following areas:
- Job creation: Drive a reindustrialisation program that will expand the productive capacity for our country, and create more jobs. In our policy rate statement, we pointed out that this process must start with powering the idling manufacturing capacity that is sitting above 21%.
- End austerity: Schools, hospitals and clinics, prisons, police stations, etc, are understaffed, operate in dilapidated infrastructure that is in short, and with little equipment. In order for the government to deliver quality education, quality healthcare, effective rehabilitating and correcting correctional services, adequate psychosocial services from social work, etc, the government has to commit more expenditure.
- Cleanse corruption: corruption has become the second most destructive element on the provision of social service behind austerity. Many towns, and now even cities, have widespread potholes despite the fact that money is allocated to fix such potholes. Those contracted, work in cahoots with government officials to use poor material so that they may pocket the change as commission, and simultaneously pay kickbacks to corrupt officials.
The most common corrupt practice is when service providers/tenderpreneurs inflate quotations during procurement. Then, over and above this, they do not do the work. In some instances, asbestos roofs are still standing even when millions were allocated for their eradication, and in other instances a mere roll of a toilet paper (made by poor material) is procured at R35 and more, even when the retail price is R5.
This explains why the former head of procurement at Treasury, Kenneth Brown, said several years ago that 35-40% of the government procurement budget is lost to tendering corruption.
If the president does not come aggressively against this phenomenon which is widespread and has become an accepted norm in ANC circles, even spilling into society, then we expect no improvement in service delivery. The question even arises: can he deal with corruption when PhalaPhala exposes that he is corrupt? The comrades who secured him the second term are also linked in corruption elsewhere!
- Energy crisis: Since late October 2022, the country has been on an uninterrupted and continuous loadshedding. This has cost the economy billions in GDP, furthermore billions in unemployment, and by extension, billions in lost revenue.
Eskom’s coal fleet must be fixed to eliminate loadshedding in the intermediate period and that government allocate new money for the building of the new renewable capacity owned by Eskom. SAFTU is still opposed to the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), and the championing of renewable energy capacity must be done by government, and not through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP).
- Energy poverty: SAFTU identifies two main factors that are perpetuating the energy poverty for the ordinary working class households. It is electricity prices and the lack of connectivity to the grid.
Many people who live in informal settlements are not connected to the grid. In fact, when they connect themselves through dangerous connections that continuously electrocute children in such communities, they are condemned by local governments, and commentators living in posh suburbs. President Ramaphosa must ensure that all settlements are formalised, and connected to the grid to end the first part of their energy poverty.
Further, the electricity tariffs that would grow by over 800% since 2007 if we factor in the recently approved tariff of 18,56%, are increasing energy poverty. Many working class households, including those who are on the national minimum wage and those relying only on social grants, cannot afford electricity.
SAFTU expects President Ramaphosa to wholly subsidise the recent tariff increase of 18,56%.
- SA Post Office: It was disappointing that the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October 2022 did not mention SA Post Office at all. In our view, this was on its own a statement: ‘the government has neglected the SA Post Office. Like it is doing with other SOEs, it wants it to fail and be sold to private companies’.
The president must instruct the finance minister to allocate money required to capitalise the SA Post Office and saturate it with liquidity that will allow it to modernise and buy the latest technology. Such a move will enable it not only to regain the market it has lost to private companies, but also provide postal service with efficiency and to the satisfaction of customers.
- Denel: Denel which has also collapsed and is at the brink of being sold to private companies, must also be saved. The country should not allow the military industrial complex to develop outside of public ownership. The minute we allow private firms to control production of weapons at large scale, wars will start springing across Southern Africa, as those arms cartels seek to create a market for consumption of their weapons and thereby, make profits.
Let us return to our opening disclaimer: SONA will just mimic the economic frameworks of neoliberal capitalism that ANC is so committed to, and as such, promise no opportunity for recovery and development for our people.
Therefore, the working class organisations must unite to coordinate a collective response in struggle. President Ramaphosa and the ANC are so committed to neoliberalism and are loyal to international institutions of capital, which have advised them to carry out the budget cuts. They will not make concessions to the contrary of the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recommendation without struggle.