President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address speech presents another decisive moment for his presidency since he came to power two years ago pledging a new dawn of reforms, economic growth and jobs.
Ramaphosa’s presidency is arguably experiencing a ‘Lazarus’ moment, enormous socio-economic challenges and virtually staring a sovereign downgrade in the face.
State-owned companies are in a shambolic state, corrupt politicians are roaming the streets and violent crime is on the increase.
Women and children are raped and murdered on a daily basis, millions of South African youth have lost hope of ever finding a job one day while the country’s distribution of income is getting worse every year.
Senior government leaders who attended the recent Cabinet Lekgotla told Inside Politic that president Ramaphosa has been advised that a message of hope must be at the centre of his address, given the difficult economic conditions the country is currently facing.
“The issue of youth unemployment was a great concern to president Ramaphosa and many other senior government leaders who attended the Cabinet Lekgotla. There was a sizeable amount of time and energy spent on the issue of youth unemployment and the economy,” said a senior government leader told Inside Politic.
On Wednesday, Ramaphosa hosted a youth dialogue in Cape Town ahead of his address on Thursday to get input from young people on how to create jobs.
The event was organized by the National Youth Development Agency.
“The high youth employment rate is unacceptable,” Ramaphosa told the young guests.
He quoted the latest results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which show that 38 000 net new jobs were created in the fourth quarter of 2019, preventing a further increase in the rate of unemployment.
However, unemployment remains unacceptably high, with 29% of South Africans unable to find work.
Of the approximately 1.2 million young people entering the labour market each year, almost two-thirds remain outside of employment, education or training.
“Any country that is serious about its development, prosperity and its future cannot be complacent that such a large percentage of the population of working age is languishing in unemployment … Addressing youth unemployment remains my foremost priority, and this is something I want to reiterate here today,” Ramaphosa told the youth dialogue.
A senior government said there was consensus at the Cabinet Lekgotla that hope must be an integral part of Ramaphosa’s address.
“People felt that the message of hope from the president’s state of the nation address would uplift South Africans and also save the country from further downgrading by the rating agencies in March,” said the government leader.
“There was fear that credit rating agencies will say something after the budget speech. So in order to avoid that, we agreed that the message of hope must come out sharply. If we don’t change how we do things, the consequences will be dire. People need hope. If there is no hope, the rating agencies might downgrade us.
[Finance Minister] Tito Mboweni warned that if things were not done differently, the credit rating agencies could downgrade us. The finance minister also warned that if nothing was done to reduce the balooning government wage bill, South Africa risked another downgrade. Mboweni said government leaders needed to engage union leaders on the matter soon.”
Cabinet Lekgotla also pushed for the implementation of District Development Model Plan.
Ramaphosa believes that the DDM’s approach will ensure that planning and spending across the three spheres of government is integrated and aligned and that each district or metro plan is developed with the interests and input of communities taken into account upfront.
The DDM is due for implementation in all of South Africa’s 44 municipal Districts and eight metros.
However, Inside Politics has learned that the plan faces major challenges which were highlighted during the cabinet lekgotla held last week. The lekgotla acknowledged there were ‘cross-cutting lessons learnt in the pilot districts.’
These included poor integration and coordination of programmes and projects, lack of clarity on rationale of projects which included ‘schools built in villages with no enrolment of learners.’
The lekgotla also found that ‘sector departments do not collaborate when implementing their programmes leading to potential duplication and diluted impact.’
Some of the challenges highlighted included the fact that ‘opportunities in the districts are not being used to grow local economies and to support national growth.