By Khulekani Magubane for Fin24
After President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his State of the Nation Address last week under the shadow of an under-performing economy, Members of Parliament jostled over whether he was confronted by near-impossible odds or complicit in South Africa’s economic quandary.
MPs held the first day of the SONA 2020 debate in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa failed to capitalise on the optimism at the beginning of his presidency, as economic growth slowed, and direct foreign investment dropped along with tax revenues and employment.
“I am not going to stand here and say that this happened on your watch, Mr President. That would be far too kind. It didn’t just happen on your watch, it happened by your own hand. You, sir, put us in this situation,” claimed Steenhuisen.
Ïn Steenhuisen’s view, most of the positive announcements Ramaphosa made during his SONA were merely DA policies that the president co-opted and appropriated as his own.
“Euthanasia is never easy, but sometimes it’s the most humane option. On Thursday night you should have switched off Eskom’s life support machine, and perhaps supported the DA’s electricity plan, which takes power from the state and gives it to the people,” Steenhuisen said.
Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa’s newly announced sovereign wealth fund was only a great idea for a nation that had a healthy budget, citing Norway and Saudi Arabia as examples.
“But we are running a budget deficit and spiralling deeper and deeper into debt. Where will the money for a sovereign wealth fund come from, Mr President? From your own bank account?” Steenhuisen asked.
Speaking after Steenhuisen, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu sprang to the president’s defence, saying that Steenhuisen could not expect the president to take his policies from the DA’s election manifesto.
Mthembu said Ramaphosa’s SONA speech focused on the energy crisis, youth unemployment, growing the economy and building a capable state.
“We welcome government’s plan to ensure that Eskom works to restore its operational capabilities, while implementing measures that will fundamentally change the trajectory of energy generation in our country such as putting in place measures to enable municipalities in good financial standing to procure their own power from independent power producers,” said Mthembu.
Mthembu added that the government was moving to respond to unemployment, which he said is high because of the “grossly imbalanced structure of the economy”.
This is exacerbated by the skills mismatch that is so prevalent in the country, he added.