I was watching #SONA2024 and listened to Ramaphosa as he delivered it. My main interest was in the 6 priority areas, which are:
Civic engagement and democracy
Trust in democracy and institutions
Service delivery challenges
Public sentiment and political choices.
I applaud Ramaphosa for his speech as it touched on all these “key priority” areas. However, it’s important to note that regarding youth unemployment, his speech doesn’t seem to factor in the urgency expressed by the 47% youth who are unemployed and dissatisfied according to Afrobarometer data.
On civic engagement and democracy, the speech only highlights successes of 30 years ago, with a focus mainly on government actions, ignoring the importance of stressing civic engagement. Level of voter apathy is an important indicator which shows worrying levels of citizens not interested in voting. Data from Afrobarometer indicate that 72% of South Africans are now willing to forgo elections
Concerning trust in democracy and institutions, while the speech celebrates three decades of democracy, it is silent on the significant drop in trust in democracy and the institutions that are supposed to strengthen it. Afrobarometer survey indicate that 70% of South Africans express dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy, which is a disappointing trend.
On corruption, it was encouraging to see the president mention it and express concern, but it would have been more important if he gone deeper into addressing the worrying public perception of the risk of retaliation for reporting corruption. For a country whose majority of citizens (72%) say ordinary people risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they report corruption it was important that the president speak on this matter more and his government’s measures to address this.
Regarding service delivery, it’s noteworthy that the president acknowledged this problem and outlined plans to address it. Dealing with these issues promptly is crucial, as they are immediate problems affecting individuals at a micro level particularly given the fact that fewer than half of citizens approve of the government’s performance on delivering public services such as education (48%), basic health care (39%), and water/sanitation (28%) with only about one in 10 giving the government a passing grade on providing electricity (12%, down from 36% in 2021) and reducing crime (11%) as indicated by Afrobarometer data
Finally, on public sentiment and political choices, it is prudent to note that the country is fragile in terms of political support, with high distrust in key government institutions and leaders. The president, in his SONA, reflected on achievements and ongoing reforms, but it was not encouraging to see him not candidly addressing how his government will deal with the current public sentiment, particularly in the context that data shows that public trust in key leaders and institutions is generally low. According to Afrobarometer data only 27% of citizens say they trust the president “somewhat” or “a lot,” down from 38% in 2021.
In conclusion, while the SONA on the surface indicates that the President is attuned to the pulse of the nation, it is discouraging that it fell short of pinpointing specific actions the government will take to address the concerns and discrepancies that are dear to the citizens. Since the SONA may not have fully addressed or emphasized these problems one wonders how the government will address them.
Nyasha Mpani is a researcher at DDP and writes in his personal capacity.