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Reflecting on #SONA2019: The pill that we needed, hope revived

  • FEB 18 2019
  • TagsState of the Nation, SONA, Opinion, nation building

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Opinion piece by Commissioner Nthabiseng Moleko

The State of the Nation Address (SONA) was not only inspirational, but it was a breath of fresh air that this country desperately needed. Despite the lack of critical reflection, it was the tablet we needed for the sickly hearts of the citizens of this nation. Many expected heat and drama, firecrackers promised by the red brigade but even the most vociferous critics were silenced.  An acute diagnosis we may still need, but we have certainly entered a new season as a nation. We are in a season where inaction, disgruntlement, hopelessness seems replaceable, the tide has turned. However, there is massive work ahead and arrests we certainly anticipate.

Get in the race, enter the boxing ring are the thoughts the closing quote from Theodore Roosevelt raised by President Ramaphosa rightfully summoned and gave a clarion call that every South African must enter the race. The race of rebuilding the nation.

“The necessary interventions in Early Childhood Development, Science and Technology skills, and the revival of TVET colleges for improved vocational skills are long overdue.”

At the recent USB On the Horizon business seminar, I outlined four key areas that the nation must enter into without reservation if we are to see the dream of a hopeful continent. These spanned across improvement of education and its outcomes, addressing governance and corruption, reigniting the economy and key sectors, and lastly mobilisation of resources and capital, both domestic and global. I was encouraged to hear the five key tasks that are prioritised by our President saw an overlap. More importantly, it was clear that the acceleration of growth would be underpinned by job creation. The economy and institutions affecting the economy would now take a central theme.

Secondly, improving the education system and skills for our future using technology as a learning tool was important. The necessary interventions in Early Childhood Development, Science and Technology skills, and the revival of TVET colleges for improved vocational skills are long overdue. However, they will all be implemented by a state bureaucracy that is largely inefficient, aged and lacks innovation. The much needed turnaround in South Africa will therefore need a much needed focus on rebuilding capacity in the state to fulfil these outcomes. It is not clear how this will be done without changing the current model of deployment. The quality of outcomes is what matters most, in droves we can increase the numbers but their ability to be absorbed into the economy and add value using the additional knowledge and competence built is a determinant of the quality of all educational interventions. We need to improve the quality, not only throw money at education

Thirdly, improving the lives of the poor, a staggering 30 million South Africans living in dire poverty is considered a most urgent task, however for this to happen the economic fortunes of South Africa have to be realised. The question is how this will occur and what is required for this to translate to the improvement of lives. The plans put forth perhaps but for the unbundling of Eskom, are no different to what is already in existence. One remains somewhat hesitant whether incubation programmes, infrastructure funds and oil finds are the game changer we need. The economy desperately needs a fundamental shift. The sectoral shift towards revitalising the contracting sectoral contribution of the primary and secondary sectors is a precondition for growth. Industrialisation was barely mentioned.

“We need to improve the quality, not only throw money at education.”

The emphasis on agriculture is what the country needs. Agriculture has the potential if combined with technology to building value chains and increasing the depth and improving forward and backward linkages domestically. Africa is estimated to have the fastest growing population estimated to reaching 2.5 billion by 2050, this is doubling in less than three decades. Our people all need food, the question is from where shall it come? With the low 17% intra-Africa trade levels, we should certainly plan and ensure that South Africa produces for the rest of the continent. It is important to build competitive advantage within the agricultural processing sector and this is what will reduce poverty. In order to improve household incomes and absorb the more than six million discouraged work seekers, the sector must be developed in every region, every province and particularly regions such as Limpopo, Eastern and Northern Cape and the North West. Infrastructure development should be targeted around gains that can be made from the already signed Continental Free Trade Agreement, we must build strong road and logistic networks and ensure the ease of movement of goods and people using rail and port infrastructure. The significant R100 billion fund must have targeted interventions that will ensure we build competitive networks and linkages within our transport networks, connecting the rural, underdeveloped regions to transport networks.

It appears that the crime busting unit, the sting taken from the Scorpions is being bought back. SONA was underpinned by strong effort towards reviving national intelligence powers and empowering state institutions and law enforcement agencies. The special unit within the NPA to investigate high level corruption is a revival of the former Scorpions type structure. The destruction of the previous crime busting unit is being revived and we are seeing an awakening of our institutions. This is decisive and corrective. Corruption is a disease that has left many institutions paralysed and it has retarded the post-apartheid South African development agenda. Sickly we entered, struggling to recover from the wounds inflicted on the nation pre-1994. We have not fully healed. Worsening incidents of gender-based violence are treacherous to an already suffering people, it is encouraging that the President has made the issue a national priority. What is necessary is the implementation of GBV summit resolutions, plans and commitments. Budget allocations in the new financial year show promise, but these are much needed and must be executed. For healing to take place.

“It is important to build competitive advantage within the agricultural processing sector and this is what will reduce poverty.”

We need to build not only strong, crime fighting institutions, but we also need to rebuild strong state institutions and restore confidence in public institutions. Our state agencies, departments at a local and provincial level and the dozen of state-owned companies mandated to fulfil public duties are in need of rebuilding. The old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” remains.

The President, even heeded and named all opposition leaders, calling them to action and getting involved in the race. This man is a gem. I am excited. I am ecstatic. We are moving forward. What a President. He has restored hope in the nation.

Nthabiseng Moleko (@afrinomicsNtha) is a Commissioner at the CGE and teaches Economics and Statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. She has successfully defended her PhD thesis recently.

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