He begins by emphasising growth, renewal, the fight against corruption and the need to advance the values of the Constitution in addressing the needs of the poor, unemployed, marginalised and dispossessed. His choice of the “five most urgent tasks at this moment in our history” is telling:

Although none of these is new, the choice of these show a realism and urgency that was lacking from the Presidency before 2018. This public acknowledgement by the President is therefore welcome.

A number of other issues stand out as positive progress:

One can and should remain concerned with other aspects of the SONA. These include the reference to expropriation without compensation, the enthusiasm around the catastrophic NHI Bill, and the idealistic notion to provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device in the next six years.

In his final paragraphs the President does indeed point to a future that all South Africans can identify with: where every man, woman and child should be provided with the opportunity and means to make a better life for themselves – no pure entitlement here. And he talks about a South Africa that acknowledges the problems of the past but looks firmly to the future – no harking back to apartheid as an excuse for the problems of today. And finally, he made a slight but discernible swipe at his predecessor and his cronies: we want a South Africa whose leaders are bold and courageous, leaders who remain servants of the people – and for whom fulfilling their duty is the highest, and the only, reward.

President Ramaphosa sounded as if he was delivering the State of the Nation for the whole nation and if he was speaking as President of all South Africans. He also sounded as if he has already made a start on the work awaiting him – and all South Africans – after 8 May. The obvious questions are whether he could win the battle in a party that is still at war within itself and if he could repair a State that could support him. For now, those are the big uncertainties.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
8 February 2019