Ramaphosa’s SONA: Good economic views, missed opportunity

Phumlani Majozi says the President never spoke about the terrifying crime crisis we endure in our country

Politicians tend to intentionally avoid telling the truth to the people. Understanding why politicians are liars is not rocket science. If they tell the truth they will lose votes in the next elections. To politicians, it’s all about the next elections.

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, gave his State of the Nation Address (SONA) this week. As usual, he highlighted what he believes to be the achievements of his government.

Now let me tell you the truth, this country has been a huge disappointment over the past decade. It’s not just the economy that is in tatters. There are other serious socio-economic problems that slow down the country’s progress.

The first one that remains the greatest concern to me is the shocking crime rates. The ANC government has failed dismally on the fight against crime since it took power from the National Party in 1994.

South Africans die daily – murdered by ruthless criminals. As we speak, 60 people are murdered a day in the country. The victims are innocent men and women who wake up every morning to contribute toward the betterment of South Africa. The state has failed to hold criminals who terrorize our communities to account.

The crime crisis taints South Africa’s image around the globe. We were respected years ago – because the world had faith in us since we had the opportunity to resolve our problems as a united, democratic nation. Not anymore, thanks to the ANC government.

Given these shocking levels of crime, one thing is clear, and that is our justice system is an utter disaster. We are in desperate need of a justice system that can punish crime and have effective policing. Our investigations capabilities need some serious enhancements to ensure a higher rate of convictions.  Things such as the bail policy must be reviewed – as criminals go out on bail to reoffend.

I believe the death penalty must also come back. Because, as economist Thomas Sowell once said, “Whatever you may think about the death penalty, it has the lowest recidivism rate of any of the ways of fighting crime.”

The President never spoke about the terrifying crime crisis we endure in our country. What a shame!

Another crisis we are witnessing in the country is the absence of fathers in children’s lives in the black community. The family breakdown amongst blacks is in shocking proportions. Only 32% of black children live with their fathers. Crisis! A crisis that, in my observation, does not get the attention it deserves. We must deal with it – and dealing with it primarily requires private citizens to be responsible human beings. Government can only do much – the greatest responsibility lies with the private citizens.

Global research is crystal clear on how important the nuclear family is in achieving prosperity. If we can reduce the shocking high rates of fatherlessness amongst South Africa’s majority, we can solve a lot of problems our society faces.

On fatherlessness that plagues our nation, Ramaphosa never said anything. I was disappointed, but not surprised. Politicians tend to ignore the negative societal impact of fatherlessness and the family breakdown. Because it is the hard truth that black people find hard to swallow.

The economy is a disaster that has produced very high unemployment rates. The unemployment rate is now approaching 50%, currently at 47% if you include people who have given up looking for work. Government spending remains a big problem as it keeps rising. We are a nation living beyond its means, with rising deficits and debt. Economist Mike Schussler has some stunning data on government spending.

Economic growth is dismal – has been dismal for a decade as annual growth has been less than 1%.

For millions of South Africans, this dire state of the economy means sleeping hungry every day.

The meaningful change in people’s lives must manifest on the ground. And in the case of South Africa, it is obvious that structural reforms will bring real change on the ground. More liberalization of the market, tax cuts to bolster growth, minimizing government spending, fixing education, are all the structural reforms needed at this point. Lesetja Kganyago of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has said this repeatedly. Enoch Godongwana, our wise finance minister also gets this.

President Ramaphosa came out strong on the need for structural economic reforms – and that was good from him. For the first time as President of South Africa, he was bold on the importance of markets in boosting economic productivity. He has appointed Sipho Nkosi, chair of Small Business Institute and former CEO of Exxaro Resources, to remove red tape in the economy. That’s good! But we want to see results. We are tired of talk no action.

Strong education is key to rapid, sustained development. Our education ought to be at a better state than where we are. My view is that we need reforms that will make our education competitive in the emerging markets world.

Communities, parents, should have more control of schools in their communities. The African National Congress (ANC) government must push back against any massive teachers’ unions influence in public education policy. The massive influence by teachers’ unions has harmed basic public education.

Achieving stronger education will also require the promotion and growth of independent schools. These independent schools do not have to be in affluent communities – even in poor communities as well. And they do not have to be expensive. 

Yet I never heard anything substantial on how we can strengthen our education. All Ramaphosa said is “As we return to normal educational activity, we will work harder to ensure that all learners and students get the quality education they need and deserve.” That’s certainly not enough given how critical education is for human development.

Another elephant in the room – that politicians and intellectuals refuse to talk about, is the high rates of population growth. With these high rates of population growth, any economic gains become too miniscule to effect significant positive societal change.

Some people argue that there is nothing wrong with rapid population growth, since you do need a young, growing population to bolster economic productivity.

In Africa, rapid population growth has become a problem because of how dire the economic conditions are in the continent. South Africa’s economic growth rate is less than the population growth rate – which basically means our people are becoming poorer. We must acknowledge this reality as citizens, and work toward keeping our population growth under control. The President should have led us on this issue during his speech – and tell South Africans to control birth rates.

What I have outlined are the fundamental issues that Ramaphosa should have spoken about. I repeat, he was right on the economy. But on others, he really missed the opportunity.

Oh, and he never said anything about illegal immigrants and his government’s failure to strengthen our borders. Many of these illegal immigrants contribute to the shocking crime rates. What a shame that he never spoke about this!

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.