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SONA 2021 – a year of change, progress and rebirth

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By Fiona Wakelin

In the October 2020 Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni used the Aloe Ferox as an analogy for survival and recovery.  On 11 February 2021, during his SONA address, President Ramaphosa continued using the symbolism of resilient flora unique to South Africa:

“Like the hardy fynbos of our native land, we too have proven to be resilient in many ways.”

President Ramaphosa was unequivocal in setting out his administration’s four priorities: “We must defeat the coronavirus pandemic; that is the primary aim in all we do. And second, we must accelerate our economic recovery. Third, we must implement economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth. And finally, we must fight corruption and strengthen the state.”

The continuation of support measures, tabled by civil society and organised labour, were addressed with the President announcing the continuation of the R350 Covid-19 Support Grant for three months, and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Temporary Employee/Employer Scheme has been extended to 15 March.

Regarding the first priority – the defeat of the coronavirus, President Ramaphosa said the first 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine – which has been shown to be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant – would arrive in South Africa next week and be administered to healthcare workers. Over the next four weeks, another 500,000 vaccines will follow. Twenty million Pfizer vaccine doses will be delivered at the end of the first quarter – end of March 2021; 12 million doses have been secured from the global Covax facility.  Other vaccines will be available to South Africa through the AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team facility, and there are ongoing engagements with all the vaccine manufacturers to ensure that sufficient quantities of vaccines that are suitable to South Africa’s conditions.  All provinces have roll out plans in place.

Addressing the second priority of economic recovery, the President emphasised the importance of localisation, citing four master plans for the clothing, chicken, vehicle and sugar sectors alongside 42 products, including edible oils, fruit concentrates and steel products, for sourcing locally. There is a renewed commitment from the state, organised labour and business to “buy local”.

On the creation of sustainable jobs, the President emphasised the social compact between the private sector and the state – while the role of the private sector will be key the public sector has a responsibility to stimulate job creation, both through its policies and through direct job creation opportunities:

“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. These opportunities are in areas like education, arts and culture, global business services, early childhood development, and small-scale and subsistence farming.”

Infrastructure projects and the R100-billion Infrastructure Fund will stimulate investment by the private sector.

The fourth priority – fighting corruption and strengthening the state was addressed by the following:

“Advancing honesty, ethics and integrity in the public service is critical if we are to build a capable state.

“Through the National School of Government, we continue to roll out courses and training programmes for government officials, from entry level to senior management and the Executive. In October last year, I signed off on Ministerial Performance Agreements with all Ministers, which have now been published online. This will enhance accountability and focused performance by members of the executive. We remain on course to build a capable and professional civil service that delivers on its mandate and is accountable to the South African people.”

The President closed the SONA by quoting Maya Angelou’s inspiring poem ‘I rise’.

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