Jobs: Hope is not perpetual - COSATU

President's proposals fall short of providing a radical departure from current post-apartheid development trajectory

COSATU response to the 2019 State of the Nation Address 

7 February 2019

The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions notes the State of the Nation Address {SONA} delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Parliament today. The federation believes that the speech by the president was explicit enough in dealing with the pertinent issues that affect the nation like corruption, employment creation and improved service delivery.

Whilst the speech gave a correct assessment of what needs to be done and identified the urgent priorities facing the nation, its proposals fall short of providing a radical departure from the current post-apartheid development trajectory. However, despite our reservations about the lack of drastic proposals on government’s course of action, we are happy that the president attempted to account on some of the key promises that were made in the previous SONA.

We expect more detail from the relevant departments during their budgets votes and also for Treasury to allocate adequate resources for implementation of some of these identified programmes. We caution the National Treasury not to use these programmes to pursue their privatisation programme. We also warn that the government’s voluntary austerity measures inspired by Treasury will derail some of these goals. 

Jobs and Economy

COSATU appreciates the economic focus of the 2019 SONA, since our stagnant economy, tepid growth and the jobs blood bath are at the centre of most of our challenges as a nation. 

We endorse the President’s call for local procurement to be at the heart of our economic revival.  We also welcome the President’s imminent signing of the Competition Amendment Act because this is a key tool to open up the economy to greater competition and ultimately spur job creation and growth.

The federation is disappointed though that the president shied away from insisting on greater state involvement and control of strategic sectors of the economy. We cannot afford to continue to abandon workers and the youth to the vagaries of the market.  Hope is not perpetual.

State Owned Enterprises

We note some positive developments at SA Express and Transnet but we feel that the president failed to give a coherent programmatic vision of what needs to be done to fix the ailing and weakened SOE’s. It is clear that the only solution by the government is to punish the real victims of corruption in the SOE’s, the workers. We want to make it very clear that we will oppose any privatisation of strategic assets like Eskom. We have a clear and unambiguous position on the issue of privatisation of state assets.

We look forward to the process of engagement with regard to the restructuring of Eskom but we find it contradictory that the president is calling for a swift restructuring but at the same time, he calls for just transition. There is no just-transition that can be rushed. We will flatly reject any solution or policy that will be unilaterally imposed and that will bring more misery to the already struggling workers.

Law Enforcement and Corruption

We appreciate the efforts by the President to clean up the NPA, SAPS, SSA and other law enforcement agencies.  We welcome the plan to establish a serious corruption directorate because the criminals that have looted our SOE’s and other government institutions need to be locked up. We also demand more resources for the workers who are tasked with fighting crime and corruption.

Revenue and Wasteful Expenditure

COSATU welcomes the efforts to fix SARS.  This is critical if we are to improve the capacity of the state. We are disappointed though that the president did not say more about a crack-down on those who refuse to pay their taxes, in particular, the wealthy, as well as the smugglers of illicit tobacco and cheap clothing importers. It is unacceptable that we continue to lose about R147 billion from the money that is illegally taken out of the country per year, and the government is not even lifting a finger.


COSATU is shocked that the SONA did not mention a plan to fix the collapsing PRASA or to build reliable, affordable, accessible and safe public transport.  Workers are dying on trains every day and the poorly regulated taxi and bus industries are maiming and killing the working class.


We appreciate the commitment to fast track NHI but this must happen as soon as possible.  What is disappointing is that the SONA was silent on the collapse of our public health care facilities.  Nurses and doctors are overworked, vacancies remain unfilled, medicines are in short supply and the infrastructure is crumbling.  If these are not dealt with there will be no NHI.

Land Reform

COSATU supports the President and the ANC’s call for faster land reform.  We welcome the commitment to release state land and to provide support for emerging farmers.  However, we are unimpressed that no mention was made of the need to protect farm workers from brutal evictions or to prioritise them in the government’s land reform projects.  These are the most vulnerable workers and yet most knowledgeable when it comes to farming.  They must be prioritised.


We are pleased that SONA touched upon the water crisis but it did not go far enough.  We are a water scarce nation in the midst of a drought with collapsing water infrastructure.  SONA was silent on the collapse of the department and did not offer any detailed plan to fix this matter of national importance. 


COSATU welcomes the progressive infrastructure commitments to education, in particular, the progress made with regards to sanitation. The silence on the rampant levels of violence in our township schools is an indication of a department without leadership.  We are disappointed that SONA was silent on a large number of children who do not matriculate.  Our education system is in a crisis and it is not geared towards the needs of the economy.  At this rate, it will continue to contribute to skills dislocation and condemn millions to a permanent life on the unemployment line.

Lastly, we call on the President to work to ensure that there is no disjuncture between the positions of the ruling party and those of the state and that the upcoming budget speech speaks to his SONA and Manifesto speeches.

Issued by Sizwe Pamla, National Spokesperson, COSATU, 7 February 2019