President delivers virtual State Of the Nation Address

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Tonight, President Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered a very different State Of the Nation Address, opting for a virtual approach as the country continues its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here are some of the main parts of the President’s address: “On this day 31 years ago, President Nelson Mandela walked out of the gates of Victor Verster, a living embodiment of the resilience and courage of the people of South Africa. His release signaled great hope of things to come.”

“The fynbos that stretches across the Cape is one of the most distinctive features of any plant. It is wondrous in its diversity . . . ”

“What is most unique and special about the fynbos that we find plentiful here is that to be sustainable and survive, the fynbos needs fire. A deadly pandemic has swept across the world, leaving devastation in its path.”

However, the president stated that “like the fynbos, we, too, have proven to be resilient.”

Covid-19

“We must overcome a legacy of exclusion and dispossession that continues to impoverish our people, and which this pandemic has severely worsened.”

“But it is not just this disease that we must defeat. We must overcome poverty and hunger, joblessness and inequality.

“We are greatly encouraged by the active involvement of business, labour, the health industry and medical schemes in particular, in preparing for this mass vaccination drive.”

“The success of the vaccination programme will rely on active collaboration between all sectors of society.”

“We have secured 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The first batch, of 80,000 doses, will arrive in the country next week. The success of the vaccination programme will rely on active collaboration between all sectors of society.”

“Since this variant is now the dominant variant in our country, this finding has significance for our programme. It will affect the choice of vaccine and the manner of their deployment.”

“Earlier this year, we learnt that the new Astra-Zeneca vaccine provides minimal protection to mild cases of the new variant. We applaud our scientists for leading new research.”

Poverty

President Ramaphosa stated that poverty is on the rise and that “inequality is deepening.”

According to the president, there were 1.7 million fewer people employed in the third quarter of 2020 than there were in the first quarter, before the pandemic struck.

It is reported that our unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 30.8%.

“As a result of the relief measures that we implemented and the phased reopening of the economy, we expect to see a strong recovery in employment by the end of 2020.”

Ramaphosa went on to state that the social and economic relief package that was introduced in April last year, is “the largest intervention of its kind in our history.”

To date, more than R57 billion in wage support has been paid to over 4.5 million workers through the Special UIF TERS scheme. More than R1.3 billion has been provided in support mainly for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Economic Recovery 

“All social partners who participated in the development of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan as part of our social compact have agreed to work together to reduce our reliance on imports by 20% over the next five years.”

42 products have been identified– ranging from edible oils to furniture, fruit concentrates, personal protective equipment, steel products and green economy inputs – that can be locally sourced.

“If we achieve our target, we will significantly expand our productive economy, potentially returning more than R200 billion to the country’s annual output.”

“Last year, we undertook to create a larger market for small businesses and designate 1,000 locally produced products that must be procured from SMMEs.”

The president explained that the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of global value chains, and this allowed the government to speed up this initiative as the local supply chains became open for locally manufactured products.

“The sugar master plan was signed during the lockdown, with a commitment from large users of sugar to procure at least 80% of their sugar needs from local growers.”

“Through the implementation of the plan, last year saw a rise in local production and a decline in imported sugar, creating stability for an industry which employs some 85,000 workers.”

Manufacturing

Since the signing of the clothing, textile, footwear and leather masterplan in November 2019, the industry has invested more than half a billion rand to expand local manufacturing facilities, including SMMEs, Ramaphosa said.

“We have worked closely with the auto sector to help it weather the pandemic. By the end of the year, the sector had recovered around 70% of its normal annual production, in difficult circumstances. Last week, the Ford Motor Company announced a R16 billion investment to expand their manufacturing facility in Tshwane for the next generation Ford Ranger bakkie. This investment will support the growth of around 12 small and medium enterprises in automotive component manufacturing.”

Ramaphosa added: “Nearly half of the procurement spend on construction of the bulk earthworks and top structure at the Tshwane Special Economic Zone during this phase is expected to be allocated for SMMEs, an amount equal to R1.7 billion in procurement opportunities.”

“Toyota has invested in their KwaZulu-Natal facility to start production of the first generation of hybrid electric vehicles to come off a South African assembly line. This follows investment announcements by Nissan, Mercedes Benz and Isuzu in expanded production facilities, all of which cement South Africa’s position as a global player in auto manufacturing,” he said.

The president highlighted that the focus this year will be on getting the industry back to full production; implementing the Black Industrialist Fund and working on a new platform for expanded auto trade with the rest of the continent. This is part of government’s be concerted efforts to boost our manufacturing sector.

He added: “To address the deep inequalities in our society, we must accelerate the implementation of broad-based black economic empowerment policies on ownership, control and management of the economy.”

Investments

In November last year, government held its third South Africa Investment Conference to review the implementation of previous commitments and to generate new investment into the economy. Ramaphosa said even under difficult economic circumstances, the Investment Conference managed to raise some R108 billion in additional investment commitments.

“Together with investment confirmed from the two previous investment conferences, we have now received R773 billion in investment commitments towards our 5-year target of R1.2 trillion. Firms have reported that some R183 billion of these investments has already flowed into projects that benefit the South African economy,” he explained.

“This shows that our country is still an attractive investment destination for both local and offshore companies. We have worked to facilitate investment by increasing the ease of doing business, including by making it easier to start a business. In the past year, more than 125,000 new companies have been registered through the BizPortal platform, completing their registration in just a matter of hours from the comfort of their homes or offices. We are making it easier for business to do business.”

Employment

“The Presidential Employment Stimulus is one of the most significant expansions of public and social employment in South Africa’s history. By the end of January 2021, over 430,000 opportunities have already been supported through the stimulus. A further 180,000 opportunities are currently in the recruitment process,” Ramaphosa said.

“These opportunities are in areas like education, arts and culture, global business services, early childhood development, and small-scale and subsistence farming. It involves environmental programmes such as the clearing of alien trees, wetland rehabilitation, fire prevention and cleaning and greening across all municipalities. These programmes are about real lives and real livelihoods.”

He said nearly half a million people are now receiving an income, developing new skills and contributing to their community and the country’s economy.

“We will continue to support employment for as long as it is necessary while the labour market recovers, even as we work to promote stronger and more resilient growth in the private sector. In the State of the Nation last year, in response to the huge challenge our country faces of youth unemployment, I announced that the National Youth Development Agency and the Department of Small Business Development would provide grant funding and business support to 1,000 young entrepreneurs within 100 days.”

He explained that while the programme had to be put on hold due to the coronavirus restrictions, it nevertheless managed to reach its target of 1,000 businesses by International Youth Day on 12 August 2020. The president is confident that this provides a firm foundation for the efforts to support 15,000 start-ups by 2024.

“Last year, we said we would establish a national Pathway Management Network to provide support and opportunities to young people across the country. I want to encourage every young South African to join the more than 1.2 million people who are already in the network, and take their next steps to a better future.”

He continued: “Of the many hardships our people had to experience last year, schooling disruption placed a huge burden on learners, teachers and families. Despite this they persevered. It is our priority for this year to regain lost time and improve educational outcomes, from the early years through to high school and post-school education and training.”

Eskom and Renewable Energy

The President said Eskom, our largest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed in principle to net zero emission by 2050 and to increase its renewable capacity. Eskom will be looking to partner with investors to repurpose and repower part of its coal fleet.

“This will be done in a way that stimulate investment, local economic activity and local manufacturing, as part of a just transition. Our work on climate change will be guided by the Presidential Coordinating Commission on Climate Change, which is meeting for the first time this month. The Commission will work on a plan for a just transition to a low-carbon economy and climate resilient society.”

The president said that the only way to achieve higher rates of growth and employment is through implementing structural economic reform. This is necessary to reduce costs and barriers entry, stimulate new investment, increase competition and a creating a space for new entrants in the market.

Corruption

Ramaphosa said corruption is one of the greatest impediments to the country’s growth and development.

He continued: “The revelations from the Zondo Commission of Inquiry lay bare the extent of state capture and related corruption. Testimony at the Commission has shown how the criminal justice system was compromised and weakened. It is therefore vital that we sustain the momentum of the rebuilding effort that we began three years ago.”

“There has been great progress in turning around law enforcement bodies. Critical leadership positions have been filled with capable, experienced and trustworthy professionals.”

“We will shortly be appointing the members of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council, which is a multi-sectoral body that will oversee the initial implementation of the strategy and the establishment of an independent statutory anti-corruption body that reports to Parliament.”

“When reports started to surface last year about possible fraud and corruption in the procurement of COVID-related goods and services, we acted decisively to put a stop to these practices, to investigate all allegations and to act against those responsible. We established a fusion centre, which brings together key law enforcement agencies to share information and resources.”

“The Fusion Centre has brought many cases to trial and preserved or recovered millions of rands in public funds. The Special Investigating Unit was authorised to investigate allegations of unlawful conduct with respect to COVID procurement by all state bodies during the National State of Disaster.”

Following the SIU’s finalised investigations last week, the Political Party Funding Act will come into operation on 1 April 2021. This is part of a significant advancement for transparency and accountability.

“This will regulate public and private funding of political parties. Among other things, it requires the disclosure of donations to parties and establishes two funds that will enable represented political parties to undertake their programmes. Crime and violence continues to undermine people’s sense of safety and security.”

Gender-Based Violence

Ending gender-based violence is imperative if we lay claim to being a society rooted in equality and non-sexism, the president said.

He added: “When I launched the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence in April last year I made a promise to the women and children of this country that we were going to strengthen the criminal justice system to prevent them being traumatised again, and to ensure that perpetrators face justice.”

“To give effect to this, three key pieces of legislation were introduced in Parliament last year to make the criminal justice system more effective in combatting gender-based violence. To ensure that perpetrators are brought to book, we are making progress in reducing the backlog of gender-based violence cases. We continue to provide care and support to survivors of gender-based violence,” he said.

In his address last year, the president said that the economic empowerment of women would be prioritised. Cabinet then approved a policy that 40% of public procurement would go to women-owned businesses. Since then, several departments have implemented this policy, said President Ramaphosa.

Government also launched the private sector-led GBVF Response Fund. R 128 million was pledged by several Southern African companies and government plans to allocate R 12 million to implement the various components of the National Strategic Plan.

He added: “Gender-based violence will only end when everyone takes responsibility for doing so in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces, in their places of worship and in their schools. Equally we need to give attention to issues affecting children including improving school-readiness, ECD planning and funding, protection against preventable diseases, policy reform around child welfare and reducing violence against children.”

Covid-19 Grant

The President said over the last few months, government has had ongoing discussions with its social partners in business and labour, who proposed an extension of some of the social and economic support.

Ramaphosa said: “We have therefore decided to extend the period for the Special COVID-19 Grant of R350 by a further three months. This has proven to be an effective and efficient short-term measure to reduce the immediate impact on the livelihoods of poor South Africans.”

He said government has also decided to extend the COVID-19 TERS benefit until 15 March 2021 only for those sectors that have not been able to operate. The conditions of this extension and the sectors to be included will be announced after consultations with social partners at NEDLAC.

“The National Treasury will work with its partners and stakeholders on improvements to the loan guarantee scheme so that it better addresses the realities of SMMEs and other businesses as they strive to recover. We will work with our social partners to ensure that these and other interventions provide the relief to those who most need it,” he said.

Ramaphosa explained: “Just as a harsh fire gives new life to our country’s fynbos, this crisis is an opportunity to build a different, better South Africa.

“Rebuilding our country requires a common effort. It requires that every South African takes responsibility and plays their part. Let us work together as government, as business, as labour and as all of society to clear away the rubble and lay a new foundation. Above all, let us return this country to the values upon which it was founded.”

He added: “On the day of his release, 31 years ago, Madiba gave his first public address here in Cape Town, where he reminded South Africans there were difficult days ahead, and that the battle was far from won.

“Madiba said: ‘Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive.’

“In counting the great cost to our society over the past year, we may be tempted to lose faith. But we can get through this.”

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