The Gordin SONA 2023: The disastrous state of our nation

Jeremy Gordin says that Eskom is clearly kaput, and there is little the ANC can do about it


This evening, at 19h00 President Cyril ‘Gommagomma’ Ramaphosa is scheduled to deliver the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

His address will take place “before a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament”, but the ‘parliament’ part will be figurative[i]. The two ‘houses’ will actually meet in the Cape Town City Hall because, as we know, a Mr Zandile Christmas Mafe allegedly burnt down much of actual Parly on 2 January 2022 [ii].

According to an affidavit ‘given’ to investigators immediately after his arrest, Mafe said inter alia that he had acted to prevent Ramaphosa from delivering SONA 2022 because SONAs seemed to achieve little, if anything; to demand Ramaphosa’s resignation; and to ask for R1500 ($85) in monthly aid for all Seffricans who have no income.

Mafe’s aim and demands sounded (and sound) eminently reasonable to me and, given that we are apparently a ‘robust’ democracy, seemed (and seem) worthy of discussion, perhaps even a referendum [iii]

We have also been informed (on the government website) that “the SONA address is an important milestone [millstone?] as it brings certainty to the country’s political, social and economic landscape. It demonstrates that South Africa’s democracy remains robust.

“President Ramaphosa will set out government’s key policy objectives and deliverables [sic] for the year ahead, flag [iv] challenges, and outline interventions to unlock our nation’s potential.”

We are all therefore dying (some of us literally) to know what our president will say. For it is common cause that these are crucial days in our history.

We the citizenry stand at the edge of a deep precipice – or (some say) we have already toppled into it and are, thanks only to the grace of our respective divinities, hanging onto a brittle small tree protruding half-way down the side of the cliff, with our right or left arms rapidly weakening and our tootsies waving in the air. 

So, will Ramaphosa deal with all the proverbial elephants in the room – or rather the herd of elephants nudging us, not so gently, over the cliff?

Will the president offer his usual menu of bullet trains, smart cities, millions of new jobs, brilliant prosecutions of the corrupt by the NPA, electric power 24/7 for all? Or will he perhaps present a bill of fare that is a bit more palpable and nutritional?

There are already numerous pundits and mavens[v] suggesting what the president will or won’t say and especially what he ought to say – and above all be able to do.

This is an important distinction. Earlier this week, my colleague RW Johnson noted that not even the ANC Command Council can change physics. This implied that the laws of physics are unchangeably what they are everywhere. With respect, however, this seems not to be accurate locally. It is patently obvious that in Seffrica the distance between saying and doing is much, much longer than anywhere else on earth.

But if I spend time entertaining the thoughts and opinions of the plurality of our pundits, etc., we’ll be here all day and I know readers have other things to do, such as planning their days around the loadshedding schedules. However, one opinion that did catch my eye – it was terse, clear and smart, albeit a trifle romantic – appeared on these very pages from my learned (and gloriously hirsute [vi]) colleague, Gabriel Crouse, IRR head of campaigns [vii].

As Crouse wrote, “The State of the Nation could be summed up in one fact from the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), namely that South Africa entered a negative phase in the business cycle in December 2013, and has remained there ever since, making this the longest downturn since records began.”

In short, all that Ramaphosa needs do – or the main thing he ought to do – is halt the downturn, which he has the power to do if he so desires, by overtly pushing back against “ideologically motivated, counterproductive policies,” of which we have almost as many as the stars in the sky – and SONA 2023 would be an ideal opportunity for Ramaphosa to announce and argue for such a planned push-back.

But sadly you and I – and probably even Crouse ­– don’t think that anything like that is going to happen, do we?


My question some seven paragraphs back about those metaphorical and pushy elephants reminded me of a 1970 poem (‘One Elephant’ [viii]) by the late Durban master-poet Douglas Livingstone, the first stanza of which reads as follows:

‘About that time arose one elephant
from all the herd who stopped and cleared his throat
and said: I can’t for all the world at all
remember what it was I had to say;
I only know it was of great importance.

Well, readers, I shan’t be your waitperson today, but if you hang in with me (between loadsheddings), I’m going to be your elephant ­– though one who does remember more or less what he wanted to say.

For as I stump around Parkview in the heat, slashing at the unsightly weeds growing through the gaps on the pavements with my swordstick (and pretending each weed is one member of the ANC National Executive Committee), I do try to make sense of what’s going on around me. I come up, as it were, with my own sort of state of the nation report.

Having said which, however, I feel that it’s only fair to inform readers that there are numerous limitations and constraints on my ‘abilities,’ which I shall do my best to note as I proceed.

Ab initio, I should point out that I am a cisgendered, Caucasian, 70-year-old male [ix], deeply enraged by inter alia ‘race agendas’; Wokeness; the Seffrican propensity for vacuous apology; and the callousness, moronicism, greed, and racism which have become the prime hallmarks of what the African National Congress has turned into.

And I’m Jewish to boot [x]. It’s obvious then that I have a lot going against me. Caveat emptor.


Eskom, etc. Despite all the promises that when this gets done and that gets repaired, things will revert to what they were before loadshedding, it seems clear that Eskom is shtupped. Its amalgam of troubles seems to extrapolate, or rather snowball, and there appears to be no going back.

Every person and his dog can tell you, and does, what the ‘problems’ are and how they might be fixed. But as I say, these ‘difficulties’ seem to concatenate – link together in a chain or series – and no King Canute (even if he’s called De Ruyter) seems able to stop the damage. (I am not here discussing causes but the present situation – insofar as I can tell what it is.)

The ANC government, which owns and ostensibly controls Eskom, apparently cannot fix this situation. It’s clearly stumped. It intends to declare a ‘state of disaster’ ­– but is clearly at a loss.

By the ANC government I mean the president, his cabinet, and various ministries. Before proceeding however, I should note two things.

First, the learned Ferial Haffajee has observed that Ramaphosa, given the constraints he faces in terms of his cabinet personnel, is actually operating (or trying to) via a cabinet-within-a-cabinet.

Second, a cabinet reshuffle is apparently in the offing; when this happens (Ramaphosa doesn’t like to rush), it might invalidate some of things I shall say now; but since Ramaphosa is unlikely to do much serious shuffling – he’s too hamstrung within the party – I’m not holding my breath. In any case, what I’m looking at here is whether we might expect this cabinet and government to ‘save’ the country.

Okay, it seems clear that many members of the cabinet [xi] are (how shall I say?) unburdened by great ability.

Particularly worrisome in this regard are minister of women, youth etc. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; minister of labour and acting minister of public service and administration Thulas Nxesi; minister of home affairs Aaron Motsoaledi; minister of small business development Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams; minister of sports Nathi Mthethwa; justice minister Ronald Lamola (notwithstanding a legal degree); and minister of transport Fikile Mbalula, which is probably why he’s been sent off to be party secretary-general, in which position he can put his foot in his mouth to his heart’s content. (That’s seven/28 people.)

Also worrisome (not for me, but for the president) is that two ANC ‘seniors’ have breached party discipline, while simultaneously demonstrating contempt for Ramaphosa. They are the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and minister of tourism Lindiwe Sisulu, the latter’s behaviour having been quite bizarre in that it has been so intemperate and self-destructive. Sisulu is likely to be shuffled away. But it’s unlikely that Dlamini-Zuma will be: too many friends (read: influence and power), too much ‘history,’ etc. (That’s nine/28 people.)

There’s another category of cabinet members whom I label (for very different reasons, mind you) lame dogs[xii]. They are minister of higher education Dr Blade Nzimande; minister of defence and military veterans Thandi Modise; minister of the environment Barbara Creecy; minister of health Joe Phaahla; minister of human settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane; minister of trade and industry Ebrahim Patel; and minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan.

The last-mentioned, who might even get shtupped in a reshuffle, is the most significant, because, whatever he did and/or didn’t do, he at least seems not to have put his fingers in the till. He, however, has been badly outplayed by the likes of Gwede Mantashe and others. ‘Good guys’ don’t always win – actually they seldom do. (That’s 16/28 people.)

We come now to the dangerous ministers – bullies who, notwithstanding being pretty shrewd, are also largely incompetent. Here Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma makes a reprise performance and is joined by minister of police Bheki Cele; minister of international relations Naledi “hong hong” Pandor; and minister of mineral resources Gwede Mantashe. (That’s 19/28 people.)

Pandor is probably the least dangerous. Still it’s unseemly in CE 2023 to have as your foreign minister such an obsequious Russia-and-Cuban-loving doctrinaire leftie and anti-Jewish creature. Dlamini-Zuma, if she remains in government, might (might) be on her best behaviour, having gone against party strictures in the Phala Phala matter. But though she talks softly, NDZ is a doctrinaire leftie and also deeply callous (cf. Aids deaths during the Mbeki reign).

Cele not only wears unseemly hats but is a buffoon, bully and incompetent; the cops are in serious disarray and, given that the SANDF is as well, this is not a laughing matter. But Cele ain’t going nowhere – Ramaphosa needs to keep close all the live Zulus he can find.

Mantashe is of course the biggest danger of all. He outplayed Gordhan and is now in charge of ‘fixing’ Eskom; and by helping Ramaphosa to re-win the ANC presidency recently, Mantashe is a bull both in a china shop and the pound seats (which he overflows). He is also brash and a bully [xiii] and more than ‘suggestions’ have been made about his probity, including at the Zondo commission (I might be old but I’m not deaf yet).

Speak to any mining executive about the treatment received from Mantashe’s department and you’ll be frightened. Mantashe and his department are simply too technologically unsavvy and stuck in leftie doctrine to handle ‘modern’ problems. I generally like older folk and former trade unionists, but I don’t like Mantashe one bit.

Let me re-phrase that. A very senior editor at [the ‘old’] Independent Newspapers – who I liked quite a lot till he surprised me by going to work for the Guptas (I can also be naïve sometimes, can’t I?) – once said to me: ‘It doesn’t matter whom you like or don’t like, does it, Jeremy?’ [I’d been telling him what a pr - - k someone close to him was.] ‘It matters whether a professional and effective job gets done, doesn’t it?’

So: I don’t at all trust Mantashe to do a professional and effective job for this country’s citizens.

This rollcall has probably been tedious, some of the above has already been said by my learned colleague William Saunderson-Meyer, and I’ve apparently missed nine cabinet members, who’ve obviously made no impression on my life. But I wanted to be as thorough as possible about the cabinet.

As for deputy-president David Mabuza, he’s indicated that he’s quitting (maybe he has a job in Russia assisting with ‘Africa policy’). But what about Ramaphosa himself?

I’ve read all the books about him, I was even once commissioned to write a long piece about him for the London Review of Books (LRB) but, Ramaphosa qua president having been newly minted then, it was clearly not what was wanted in London (see here).

Anyway, whatever you do or don’t know about Ramaphosa, he remains an equivocatory, painfully cautious figure. Notwithstanding all the praise heaped on him mostly by whiteys during the 90s, he’s clearly galaxies away from being a De Gaulle or Churchill or even an Ariel Sharon. He’s not got the backbone or the cojones – or apparently the desire – to go against his party, even if it’s the right thing to do. One is not even sure if he knows it’s the right thing to do.

For what it’s worth, my view regarding Ramaphosa is that, having earned (or been gifted – opinions differ) tons of latkes, he started wondering what he might do in his 60s, besides selling Ankole cattle [xiv]. Ramaphosa didn’t want to work in the garden at home – with which I sympathize, us tubby guys find it hard going, your belt juts painfully into your gut and the sun can be hot.

He resolved therefore to go back into politics and become ANC president. (It was on offer.) Not too onerous, quite fun, hang out in the Union Buildings, meet interesting folk overseas, and so on. Alas, along came Covid and various other cockups and now the poor fellow is stuck. What a pain in the tuchis!

To cut a long story a little shorter, I don’t think Mr R is going to say anything tonight that’s going to assist.

What then about the mighty municipality of Johannesburg? Couldn’t it perhaps do something to alleviate this ‘energy crisis’? I see that I’m already some 2 300 words into this article, I don’t want to try your patience, so I’ll be brief.

You’ve read what’s happened regarding coalition shenanigans. In short, the DA’s been well and truly shtupped. But if you, dear readers, believe that any one of the shtuppers have anything like ‘the good of the people’ in their minds, you’re more naïve than Prince Harry – and that’s pretty damn naïve. So, no, you can pretty much bid adieu to the so-called infrastructure (water, electricity, and roads) of our two major municipalities.


Now for something jollier.

I mentioned somewhere up above – it feels like hours ago, sorry – that (in addition to those limitations enumerated at the end of section 2), I am constrained by a number of other issues.

One of these is that ­– being an old codger and therefore having hibernated during the heydays of Covid, and also having been a journalist and therefore being almost as poor as a paw-paw (my daughter’s rendition of ‘pauper’ when she was little) – I don’t get out much [xv].

But recently my gorgeous wife and I betook ourselves to one of the newer restaurants on the Parkhurst strip. Notwithstanding a humble hamburger going for R180, it was a thoroughly pleasant evening. The weather was balmy, the restaurant was packed, as was the street ­– and everybody, black, white, brown, gay, straight, and trans was having a good and friendly time.

Sorry to sound like a shlocky ad for Seffrica, but that’s how it was. And it reminded me that, notwithstanding the ANC and EFF penchant for turning up the volume vis-à-vis race, out on the street we Seffricans mostly get on fine.

But where all those ostensibly young folk get the money they were spending and how they afford their fancy motor vehicles, I know not.

Which reminds me: I’ve not said anything about unemployment, agriculture, mining, big business, high finance, property values, interest rates, skills training, education, agriculture, legal issues, etc., etc.. But that’s, I suppose, because none of those affect me directly.

But I can read ­– so I do know, to take one example, that the CEOs of member companies of the Consumer Goods Council of SA (CGCSA) wrote an open letter to Ramaphosa warning that unless “the load-shedding crisis is urgently addressed, stable supplies of food, medicines and other essential goods cannot be guaranteed”. And that’s just one article.

In other words, at the minute things remain pretty ‘calm’, there’s no ‘unrest’ as during the 2021 looting. But if someone doesn’t fix unemployment and Eskom, jack up the economy, and sort out corruption, crime, and the lousy hospitals ...

Well, whatever Ramaphosa might say, none of this is going to be achieved by the group of minstrels attending SONA in Cape Town tonight.

It seems to me, alas, that about the only thing that’ll be left to relish will be the weather and the fact that we’re not in Turkey or northern Syria.


[i] Do you think the fact that the president, MPs and suchlike will not be in the actual parliament has a psychological effect on them? Do you think it throws them off kilter? I don’t recall any counselling being offered to them after the fire, even though we Seffricans are big on offering counselling. Or don’t the president and MPs have much balance anyway? I’m just asking.

[ii] I am not entirely certain what has become of Mr Mafe. According to a January (2023) newspaper report, Mafe was set to make another appearance in the Western Cape High Court at the end of January or beginning of this month. It would have been the fourth time that Mafe appeared (or in fact didn’t) in the high court for a pre-trial hearing.

Previous attempts to hold the hearing were unsuccessful because the accused refused to come to court – and our days of thumpa-dumping recalcitrant awaiting-trial prisoners seem to have ended, if at any rate his or her legal representative happens to be Dali Mpofu SC. Can you imagine what would happen if a cop (especially a white or ‘coloured’ one) took (in time-honoured fashion) a swipe at a Mpofu client?

At any rate, prior to the first pre-trial hearing in August last year, Mafe would not leave the court’s holding cells. Then in September, he refused to leave Pollsmoor Prison where he is being held. Mafe then demanded – before he would go anywhere – to have a television, radio, and a kettle in his cell.

Now, Mafe’s attitude might sound over-the-top to some readers. Please remember however that convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik of Norway, who spends his days in a ‘spacious’ three-room cell, playing video games, exercising, watching TV, and taking university-level courses in mathematics and business, is apparently ‘working on’ a lawsuit regarding the conditions of his imprisonment and (what he says are) violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

[iii] Given the timing of SONA, Mafe’s actions also seemed pretty ironic. I mention this in passing because my learned friend David Bullard recently suggested that we Seffricans have no sense of irony. I don’t know what hooch DB’s imbibing these days out in the winelands.

[iv] This has nothing to do with minister of sports Nathi Mthethwa’s planned (or now unplanned, I’m not certain) 100-metre-tall, R22-million flag ‘monument’.

[v] Shamepies, man, even the perennially hopeful Adriaan Basson of News24 is this week sounding a trifle anxious about Ramaphosa.

[vi] I am not making fun by the way; I am truly envious. You should have seen me in my youth.

[vii] Apologies by the way, Gabriel, for having performed an ungraceful double-take on Tyrone Ave last Sunday morning. I was, as it happened, thinking about the Russian revolution (as one does after a hash stack and café latte at a local eatery) when all of a sudden Rasputin appeared and greeted me jovially. Obviously, I got quite a shock. But it was, it turned out, you! Sorry, again.

[viii] Eyes Closed Against the Sun, Douglas Livingstone, OUP, 1970. P 20.

[ix] If I were dead, for example, which is probably only a matter of time, I could be a fully-fledged member of the old, dead, white, European, males (ODWEM) club – the only club I would ever willingly join.

[x] Or so my mother claimed. Unless one’s had proper DNA ancestry tests, which I haven’t, it’s difficult to be precise, For all I know, I might be descended from a Cossack who raped my great-great granny, a Khazar, a naughty Palestinian, a Ukrainian goy, a Trekboer, or the family of the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Life’s such a lottery, ain’t it?

[xi] Which comprises 30 members, 28 ministers, the president, and his deputy. The 32 deputy ministers are not part of the cabinet.

[xii] Though I know that truly lame dogs usually haven’t inflicted their own injuries – and thus my metaphor is unfair to our four-legged friends.

[xiii] If you want to know about Mantashe’s attitude to corruption, etc., look at pages 230-1 in How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay: An Inside Account (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2017) by Chippy Olver.

[xiv] As Livingstone’s elephant says about other beasts later in the aforementioned poem: there’s ‘their egos and their stench/ their cunning cruelty, destructivity, / [and so one] turns, despite oneself, grimly to Man.’

[xv] Sadly, my life consists mainly of scribbling, reading, cogitating, studying the Talmud, taking insulin, hanging out in Parkview, watching rugby, annoying my gorgeous wife and my neighbour Ginzey, and occasionally purchasing comestibles (and pipe tobacco).