The 2019 SONA Prospects

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Cape Town-190207-.EFF members sat while President Cyril Ramaphosa walked in at Parliament to delivering the State of the Nation Address. photograph; Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

The context within which the State of the Nation of Address (Sona) is delivered, is as important as its content, and the person delivering it. For this 2019 Sona, the following contexts are crucial: the first and possibly most important, is the status of the governing party; and the second, linked to the former, is the solidity or otherwise of the leader of the ruling party who doubles as the state president. In this case, the African National Congress, and president Cyril Ramaphosa.  

In a broader sense, the state of the nation address seeks to do the following: build confidence and hope in society that the country is on a great course to prosperity. That, regardless of the challenges faced by society, the governing party has proper plans; programmes, projects; and has allocated resources appropriately for the country to develop progressively.

Ultimately, the state of the nation address must easily convince society that the country has appropriate plans, a proper governing party, and a sound and solid political leadership to steer the country into prosperity. The state of the nation address must do what President Mbeki christened in one of his Sona addresses as the “Age of Hope”. It must inspire and motivate.  This has as much to do with president Ramaphosa as much as the collective ANC leadership.

The 2019 state of the nation address happens in a context of a fragile ANC. At worst, it is fragile right at the highest level. In the main, between the Secretary General, Ace Magashule; against the dual president of the ANC, and the head of state.

The governing ANC is disorganized at the top. It is at loggerheads right at the two important anchor positions: the Secretary General; and the President. Rather than the top leadership of the ANC playing a national unifying role, they are inherently divisive.

Thus, when Ramaphosa presents the state of the address, it will correctly be received as the programme of the ruling faction within the ANC. It will not be seen as the programme of the ANC government.

The anti-Ramaphosa faction within the ANC, will use the Sona to campaign that the president is not addressing the resolutions of the ANC Nasrec Resolutions. In fact, the radicalism of the Nasrec ANC resolutions around the status of the Reserve Bank, and Land Expropriation without compensation, could arguably be said to have been earmarked to constrain the leadership of Ramaphosa. The ANC anti-Ramaphosa faction, has positioned itself as the fiercest opposition of the Ramaphosa presidency.

In the process, this tussle has created a question that asks: how long will Ramaphosa last as both ANC, and state president. Therefore, the very same ruling party that ought to steer the country through a stable direction, has an unstable leadership, and thereby causing instability throughout society.

This instability at the top echelons of the governing ANC, renders everything that the governing ANC in terms of policies and state programmes short-lived. Whatever the ANC does, is depended on the faction that is in charge at that time. It is not a well thought out long terms plan based on proper vision and mission. Rather, on the agenda of that faction. As such, a fragile leadership of the ANC is unable to inspire and motivate society through its president state of the nation address.

Political leadership is a crucial element in the strategic development of the country. It is one thing that creates and leads to policy and programme certainty and sustainability. The ANC undermines this necessary certainty and stability by constantly creating the impression that its very own elected president may not last even just his first term.

The same applies with regards to its own very own Secretary General. There is also consideration that Ace Magashule should be removed from this leadership position. The growing underground, and yet powerful discourse within the ANC, is rather, who will go first between the president and the Secretary General.  

The ANC fragility that has led to president Mbeki, and president Jacob Zuma being removed from the office before their official terms ended, seem to be a continuous norm within the ANC. This revolving door in the top echelons of the governing ANC, renders the party incapable of running a long-term state vision, policy and programme.

Rather than a cohesive and disciplined ruling party, the ANC is increasingly becoming a top intra class political squabbling party. That is, the class contestations within the ANC, are not between the membership and the leadership, but within the leadership itself.  

This amounts to a glorified gang warfare. The difference of this gang warfare is that it is not territorial, but positional in relation to access to state levers and control of state resources. What might distinguish this top intra class squabbles within the ANC, is the level of sophistry and alignment to top corporate institutions and leaders.

In the process, the gang that’s associated with the domestic and global capital institutions and leaders, is likely to enjoy positive prominence in the media. Whilst the gang on the other side, is likely to rely on grassroots organizational mobilization. This might include malicious exchanges of financial resources, and patronage.

In the ideal political environment, the state of the nation address, ought to articulate the socio-economic status of society. This will be the easiest part as the ills of society are well known. These includes, issues of unemployment; poverty; corruption; and low levels of economic growth.

The second imperative of the state of the nation address, is to convince the South African society, that the governing party has an appropriate short, middle, and long-term plan to steer the country into prosperous terrains.

An integral part of this is the third part – presenting to society a solid political leadership well capacitated, abled, cohesive, and disciplined enough to appropriately drive the developmental agenda. This is sadly missing.

Therefore, no matter how properly state bureaucrats craft Ramaphosa’s speech; and no matter how articulate he presents it; the question will remain – how solid is the ANC that he leads to deliver on the commitments of the speech; and how solid is his own driver’s seat in this very same ANC?

Ramaphosa’s prospects on his Sona commitments, will primarily emanate from his own political base.

Dumisani Hlophe is a Political Analyst. His Twitter handle is @KunjaloD.