South Africa
State of the Nation Address 2023

Reflections on South Africa's successes and challenges
Sona 2023

Cape Town - Late afternoon a homeless man makes ready to sleep at the entrance of the Parliament of South Africa

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Is the new dawn on track or is there a new dusk?

On the 9th of February 2023 at 19h00 the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa will rise to deliver the 6th State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Cape Town City Hall. The SONA is often regarded as a popular event on the social and political calendar of many South Africans. The President reflects on the country, its successes, and challenges. The plans and priorities for the year are revealed. It is usually a moment of hope. You may be wondering why the City Hall and not Parliament itself. The simple answer is the Parliament lies in ruins. It was gutted by a fire started by a homeless vagrant on 02 January 2022. Parliament is homeless without the dim prospect of restoration. This may embody the state and psyche of South Africans today.

When he first stepped onto the stage as president he promised a “new dawn”. On Thursday Cyril Ramaphosa will rise to address a nation in crisis with very little hope of any light and in a temporary home. The power utility, ESKOM, is on the brink of collapse, and leaderless. South Africans are in the dark on a daily basis and will enter winter with the reality of at least 8 hours of electricity shortages (load-shedding/blackouts) per day. It is promised that this will only stop in two years if all goes to plan. Unfortunately, we wait for a plan, but we rarely succeed in putting plans into action. Electricity is just one of many state-owned companies that are in trouble and in need of a plan and finance to get up and running again. The airline, railroads, post office, and ports (to name a few) are battling to maintain any service and continue to operate at a loss. South Africans are desperate for answers from the President on how he and his team will fix the mess.

The biggest pain is felt at the local government level. Services like refuse removal, street lights, paved roads, public transport, and clean safe drinking water are becoming luxuries. Infrastructure is in need of renewal. Health, security, education, and transport are lucrative and booming industries as more people opt out of using poor state-offered services.In a country with deep economic divides the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. Those who are dependent on state services carry a greater risk of poor or no service at all. The shopping list of things South Africans need from their government is growing. Hope is fading that the present government is able to meet the demands. Increasingly, South Africans are growing weary of the political system.

After six years of listening to Cyril Ramaphosa deliver SONA, South Africans have worked out the formula. He admits fault. He shares where and how it all went wrong. You can be fooled into believing he gets what is wrong, he understands our problems and he has a plan. The plan started out as a three-point one and has incrementally increased to ten points. We may reach twelve this year. Maybe another commission or committee? Whatever he says it is unlikely to lighten the mood or restore the confidence of ordinary South Africans in his leadership.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s party, The African National Congress (ANC) has been in steady electoral decline and the Official opposition the Democratic Alliance (DA) has had two elections of negative growth. Voters are fragmenting and supporting smaller parties or just “quietly quitting” politics. 2024 would be 30 years of ANC governance. At the local government level coalition governments seem to be a growing trend. This may be the future at provincial and national levels. For the first time at a National level, we may have no single party getting a 50%+1 majority to govern outright. The opposition parties remain fragmented and may battle to capitalise on ANC’s weakness. They would need to work together in preparing for a post-ANC moment.

In a little over 14 months, South Africans will again go to the polls to vote for the National and Provincial governments. What we know is that the President’s speech on Thursday will lay the foundation for his and the ANC’s re-election campaign. South Africans can only hope that some of the points in the many plans will be fulfilled. Just enough to restore some faith in the system. South Africans need really good news and a little bit more light! Perhaps, we can also find out when parliament will have a home again.