South Africa's newly elected President, Cyril Ramaphosa, will deliver his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament tonight, amid high expectations and enthusiasm.
Ramaphosa was elected and officially sworn-in as the fifth President of the democratic SA on Thursday, following unprecedented political events in the country, which culminated in the resignation of Jacob Zuma as President on Wednesday night.
President Zuma tendered his resignation two days after the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), announced his recall at a special meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
Zuma’s recall was preceded by days of political uncertainty and anxiety, and in a never-seen before move, parliament was forced to postpone the State of the Nation Address that was scheduled to be tabled on 8 February. Parliament confirmed late on Wednesday that the address will now be held tonight.
SONA is an important event in South Africa’s political calendar and this early February tradition does not only allow the country to reflect on the achievements and challenges experienced over the past year, but offers the President a chance to set out government’s key policy objectives and deliverables for the year ahead. It’s one of the rare occasions when all three arms of the state – the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature - come together in one place and play out their constitutional roles in a public ritual symbolising the separation of powers between them in procession towards the National Assembly on Parliament Street.
Ramaphosa’s election as President of the ANC in December, and his subsequent ascendency to the highest office, has been met with positive sentiments and widely welcomed across sections of society.
Since his election, investors are seen to be having a much more optimistic view of South Africa than has been seen in the previous year.
As he takes to the podium tonight to deliver his speech, President Ramaphosa will no doubt face a nation full of hope for the future of the country, following days of political drama and anxiety.
He has served as the country’s Deputy President since 2014 and his election as the fifth President of South Africa since 1994 can never be seen as a miracle or somewhat unexpected.
President Ramaphosa is a respected politician whose political activism can be traced back to the early 70s when he was detained several times including during the Soweto student uprising. He is known for his rare leadership qualities and negotiating skills, abilities many say he developed in the course of his multi-faceted life in the labour movement, as the Secretary General of the ANC, as well as a successful businessman.
Since his comeback in active politics in 2014, Ramaphosa, 65, earned the name of “Mr Fix-it” among some journalists because of his ability to tackle complex problems in state owned companies, bargaining councils and recently his mediation skills during the protracted political impasse in Lesotho.
He is viewed as a leader with a deep business acumen, who will help stabilise political uncertainty and help lobby for investment for South Africa at a time the country is in need of an economy that supplies jobs, funds education, healthcare and many other needs of the people of South Africa.
People will be expecting President Ramaphosa, whose business acumen is seen as a magnet for investors, to make some statement tonight about what government and other social partners plan to do to ensure that the country moves forward swiftly in ensuring economic recovery and build on the successes of the outgoing administration.
The phrases economic recovery and growth appeared in almost every speech Ramaphosa had given since he was elected President of the ANC in December. At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, President Ramaphosa, as Deputy President, led the country’s delegation in spreading the message that South Africa is open to investment and was committed to economic recovery. During an interview with BloombergTV, he reiterated the emergence of renewal, hope and opportunity.
That message of renewal, hope and opportunity is likely to again feature prominently in President Ramaphosa’s speech in parliament tonight.
He will likely draw lines from the governing party’s January 8 statement which is traditionally used as a guide for the government’s programmes and prioritise for the year ahead.
Among the key issues raised in that statement are:
- Socio-economic transformation of the country to ensure full participation of all South Africans in the economy of the country.
- Dealing with corruption.
- Forge a social pact between government, labour, business and communities urgently to reignite economic growth and accelerate the process of transformation.
- Prioritise effective public employment programmes, internships, job placement, youth entrepreneurship and set-aside programmes.
- Implementation of a free higher education for students from poor and working class backgrounds whose household income is less than R350 000.
President Ramaphosa will address the nation at 7pm.