SUMMARY: #SONA2021 focuses on COVID-19, economy and corruption

PARLIAMENT – President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered South Africa’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday.

The address was preceded by a candle-lighting ceremony and moment of silence to honour and remember people who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 45,000 people have died as a result of the virus.

READ: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine remains important: WHO

Ramaphosa said the country has experienced a terrible tragedy and hardship over the past year.

He said South Africans have proved to be resilient and have stood together to fight a common enemy — COVID-19.

“Like a wildfire that sweeps across the mountainous ranges where the fynbos grows, a deadly pandemic has swept across the world, leaving devastation in its path.   And yet, like the hardy fynbos of our native land, we too have proven to be resilient in many ways.”

Ramaphosa hailed the efforts of frontliners and essential workers, saying the South African story is one of solidarity and compassion.

The president announced that the first batch of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine is the set to arrive in the country next week.

“The success of the vaccination programme will rely on active collaboration between all sectors of society.”

The president emphasised a need for economic recovery and implementation of economic reforms to create jobs and drive growth.

“We must overcome a legacy of exclusion and dispossession that continues to impoverish our people, and which this pandemic has severely worsened,” he said.

READ: Ramaphosa reveals new smart city plans for Lanseria

“As a result of the relief measures that we implemented and the phased reopening of the economy, we expect to see a strong recovery in employment by the end of 2020.”

The president said, to date, more than R57-billion in wage support has been paid to over 4.5 million workers through the Special UIF TERS scheme.

Ramaphosa announced an extension of the COVID-19 TERS benefit until 15 March for sectors that have not been able to operate.

The president also announced the decision to extend the period for the Special COVID-19 Grant of R350 by three months.

The president reminded Parliament of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, presented in October 2020, that focuses on infrastructure, local production, employment stimulus and energy generation capacity increase.

Ramaphosa referred to two major human settlements projects, anticipated to provide housing to almost 68,000 households.

The second priority intervention of the Recovery Plan is to support an increase in local production. The government aims to make South African exports globally competitive and reduce local reliance on imports by 20 percent over the next five years.

The president also said BBBEE policies must be implemented to advance control over and management of the economy.

“In December 2020, government and its social partners signed the historic Eskom Social Compact, which outlines the necessary actions we must take, collectively and as individual constituencies, to meet the country’s energy needs now and into the future.”

The government will be initiating the procurement of an additional 11,800 megawatts of power from renewable energy, natural gas, battery storage and coal.

READ: NUM: Reshuffle Eskom leadership

Eskom has estimated that without additional capacity, there will be an electricity supply shortfall of between 4,000 and 6,000 megawatts over the next five years.

The government will be issuing a request for proposals for 2,600 megawatts from wind and solar energy as part of Bid Window 5, followed by another bid window in August 2021.

Schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act will be amended within the next three months to increase the licensing threshold for embedded generation, he said.

Ramaphosa said the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council has outlined a set of reforms that will enable SOEs to fulfil their mandate for growth and development.

“The mandates of all SOEs are being re-evaluated to ensure that they are responsive to the country’s needs and the implementation of the National Development Plan.”

“We must fight corruption and strengthen the state that has been weakened.”

The president spoke of a need to improve public service delivery and professionalism to regain the confidence of the public.

He named courses and training programmes for government officials through the National School of Governance and the newly signed off Minister’s Performance Agreements as marks of progress in this area.

“Working with both public and private sector partners, government is implementing a range of measures to support municipalities to address inadequate and inconsistent service delivery in areas such water provision, infrastructure build and maintenance.”

Ramaphosa announced the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council.

Council members will be appointed in the coming weeks and will be tasked with overseeing the initial implementation of the strategy and the establishment of an anti-corruption body that will report to parliament.

The president also named crime as a major area to address in order to recover economic activity.

“Crimes like cable theft, railway infrastructure vandalism, land invasions, construction site disruptions and attacks on truck drivers hamper economic activity and discourage investment,” he said.

Task teams have been set up in a number of provinces to deal with extortion and violence on sites of economic activity. 

The government is reportedly fast-tracking the implementation and capacitation of the Border Management Agency to curb illegal immigration and cross-border crime.

What the president has referred to as “the second pandemic“, gender-based violence, will be addressed by strengthening the justice system through the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence.

Ramaphosa also said the private-sector-led initiative, the GBVF Response Fund has received pledges to the value of R128-million.

Over the next three years, the government will allocate approximately R12-billion to implement the various components of the National Strategic Plan.

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