16 February 2018

South Africa: Cyril Ramaphosa Delivers Message of Hope in State of the Nation Address

South Africa's new president has delivered a rousing state of the nation address promising to clamp down on corruption. Jacob Zuma was scheduled to deliver the speech, but resigned in disgrace two days ago.

South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, hailed a new dawn for the nation on Friday during his first state of the nation address since his predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned in disgrace.

Speaking in parliament, Ramaphosa said South Africa will face "tough decisions" to reverse the country's economic woes and address public distrust.

Fighting corruption

His speech focused heavily on stamping out corruption, responding to a series of corruption scandals that plagued Zuma.

"This is the year in which we will turn the tide on corruption in our public institutions," Ramaphosa said.

"The criminal justice institutions have been taking initiatives that will enable us to deal effectively with corruption.

"We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people."

Financial stability

Ramaphosa promised to concentrate on creating jobs in 2018 and attracting investment, particularly in the mining sector. Zuma left the nation with a 50-billion-rand ($4.3-billion/€3.44-billion) deficit and a 26.7 percent unemployment rate.

"We will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation," Ramaphosa said, without giving many policy details.

"We have to build further on the collaboration with business and labor to restore confidence and prevent an investment downgrade.

"Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilize our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health," he said, adding "our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment."

He said he could also be downsizing bloated government departments and restructuring inefficient state-owned enterprises.

Land transfer

Ramaphosa appealed directly to the poorer black voters who form the core supporters of his ANC party, saying he would attempt to speed up the transfer of land to black people. Despite apartheid ending two decades ago, white people still own most of the land in the country.

He said he would pursue a policy of "radical economic transformation" to speed up expropriation of land without compensation, in a way that increases agricultural production and improves food security.

Responses to his speech

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said the president was reading from an old script.

"We could have gotten more bolder action today, but I heard more of the same stuff," Maimane said.

The leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), Julius Malema, said he welcomed the commitments to shrink the cabinet and take back land. "He [Ramaphosa] has a lot of ideas but no plan of how to go about it, but let's give the benefit of doubt," Malema said.

Narend Singh, chief whip of the Inkatha Freedom Party, the fourth largest party, spoke effusively.

"The last positive speech of this sort that I heard was in 1994 when Madiba spoke," he said, referring to former President Nelson Mandela. "He's returned faith in members of parliament -- and in South Africans."

The rand currency rallied soon after Ramaphosa started his speech, trading at close to a three-year high.

aw/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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