Expectations from SONA 2021 – SACP

Govt must reserve sufficient broadband spectrum for state to fulfil its obligations

Expectations from the State of the Nation Address

9 February 2021

On Thursday, 11 February 2021 President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the 2021 State of the Nation Address, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The pandemic has worsened the pre-existing capitalist system crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality, and millions of households unable to support life itself. The cause of these interrelated crises is the exploitative capitalist system.

Through its production and consumption patterns, capitalism is also the cause of the crisis of climate change and global warming behind the increasingly occurring natural disasters. Also rooted in capitalist social relations, South Africa is facing the scourge of criminality, interpersonal and gender-based violence. The State of the Nation Address must inspire hope, through compelling state-led policies, programmes, and interventions, towards overcoming these interrelated capitalist system crises and scourges.

The SACP would like to hear President Ramaphosa make strong emphasis with measures to end the scourge of gender-based violence, and corruption. We wish the State of the Nation Address to pave the way for gender responsive budgeting and adequate resourcing of gender transformation and programmes to tackle gender-based violence across all spheres of the government.  

Structural economic transformation and broader social development response   

Therefore, the SACP expects the measures to be announced by President Ramaphosa to drive structural economic transformation and broader social development. To achieve this, those measures must be consistent with, and decisively advance the Alliance’s shared strategic perspective to place our democratic transition, economic and broader social transformation and development into a second radical phase.

The continuation of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant will go a long way in mitigating the impact of the pandemic forcing more people into destitution, in the context of an absence of a comprehensive social security system. The continuation of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant should be institutionalised as a step towards establishing a minimum income guarantee and building a comprehensive social security system.

Specific sectoral measures that we would like to hear President Ramaphosa announce include:

- a more decisive state-led public infrastructure development, social and economic, at scale;

- industrialisation;

- transformation of the mining industry through state intervention to ensure the developmental impact of mining and minerals beneficiation as a pillar of industrialisation;

- agriculture expansion and agro-processing value chain development as part of our industrialisation strategy;

- radical land redistribution and rural development to support agrarian transformation, combine agriculture with manufacturing, and systematically eliminate unequal development between rural and urban areas; and

- as a key pillar of driving a qualitatively different, inclusive growth path, adequate support for innovation, research and development to alter our terms of international trade towards localisation and expanding domestic productive capacity as a strong element, thus systematically eliminating the persisting colonial type dependency on the import of finished scientific and technological products, including the digital platforms associated with the deepening and widening technological revolution.      

The broadband spectrum

Related to driving an inclusive growth in the sphere of technological revolution and bridging the digital divide, ensuring access to connectivity at low cost including in rural areas, the SACP’s stance is that the government must reserve sufficient broadband spectrum set aside for the state to directly fulfil its constitutional obligations at least in terms of sections 27, 29, 32, and 33–34 of our Constitution. These sections of our Constitution are about ensuring access for all to quality healthcare, education, information, and justice.

That requires, in view of the deepening and widening technological revolution, state-driven rollout of broadband and related mobile communication connectivity infrastructure. Dropping the cost of mobile data and providing free access to Wi-Fi with greater emphasis on ensuring connectivity in historically disadvantaged areas, especially rural and townships, will contribute positively to the realisation of our constitutional vision of redress and national development imperatives.

The broadband spectrum is key to wireless and mobile communication, as well as the digital economy or the e-economy. It is a finite resource that South Africa cannot afford to place on wholesale privatisation, which can only benefit a tiny minority of rich individuals who want to exploit it for profit making and a handful of their BEE elite connections, structurally, that is by default, excluding from its ownership and control the millions of our people without any capital of their own to participate in such auctioning off of the strategic resource to the highest bidders.  

Furthermore, under the COVID-19 pandemic many services affecting the indispensable constitutional obligations of the state, in addition including responses to disasters, and ensuring territorial integrity, defence and national security, have more and more shifted to the technological sphere. This requires an active democratic developmental state with its own, uncensored and unmediated, capacity on that front to serve the people wholeheartedly.

The state should not allow our national development vision to be subordinated to the private interests of a few and short-termism.  The licensing of the broadband spectrum should therefore be preceded first and foremost by fully securing the national development imperatives, in addition bearing in mind sustainable development goals with future generations in mind. But even then, the licensing must not entrench private monopolies and their dominance. Rather, it must de-monopolise the telecommunication sector and related media towards meeting our constitutional vision of redress by empowering the historically disadvantaged masses collectively.     

Mobile telecommunication in South Africa is dominated by two private monopolies. Because of private monopoly dominance in the sector and, linked with it, privatisation in the past, the state, for example, in higher education and training when colleges and universities in response to COVID-19 shifted teaching and learning to online platforms, was forced to approach the monopolies dominating the sector to beg them to lower the cost of mobile data for college and university students to gain access to education. The cost of data in South Africa remains high to this day. As if that were not enough, the monopolies took advantage of COVID-19 to restructure their data pricing models to maximise profits. Many rural areas continue to be excluded from connectivity.

Issued by Alex MohubetswaneMashilo, SACP Central Committee Member:Media & Communications, SACP, 9 February 2021