My Take With Mbangwa Xaba

By Mbangwa Xaba

The State of the Nation Address (SONA) was such a damp squib. It was a let-down to the revolutionary ambience of its venue and the defiant spirit of its setting. It didn’t touch even a single soul of the poor South Africans as it should have.

The wretched of the land anticipated words of hope, given the fact that the place is where Nelson Mandela made his first speech as a freeman. Faced with massive devastation from Covid-19, a stagnant economy, high unemployment rate and rampant poverty, the nation’s attention was rock solid and at a celestial level.

Unfortunately, the words which flowed from the mouth of the first citizen turned our hopes and attention into a flood of pain and disappointment.
The men and women who were in attendance, and dressed to the nines, seem to be at sixes and sevens on how to deal with the socio-economic problems that have made South Africa one of the most unequal countries in the world. We have an unsustainable and perilous pyramid economic structure. A mere 10% live in absurd opulence while 35% are in the middle class and the rest live in abject poverty. 

As it turned out, for the36 million jobless, marginalised, unskilled, mostly young, mostly rural or peri-urban outcasts, largely black South Africans, who are increasingly agitated as they are continuously condemned to poverty, the speech was like rubbing sand in their eyes.

It is from these poor families that victims of apartheid massacres came from since the 1940s to the 90s. These are the South Africans who lost their loved ones and buried countless victims of the so-called black-on-black violence and countless acts of state terrorism. These neglected South Africans, at the risk to their lives, housed and raised guerrillas…
Most of these poor citizens are all too familiar with the incapacitating effects of teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and being a forced guest of the apartheid system…behind prison walls for fighting for freedom. These are the patriots who have been patient with the ANC since 1994.

Now, at the hour of their greatest need, the government has turned its back on them.
This year’s SONA was never about the people. President Cyril Ramaphosa made that much abundantly clear. His address was directed at the world capitalists, the IMF, the World Bank and local proponents of structural reform – the enemies of economic justice.

I have made peace with comments of the leader of the liberals and right-wing parliamentarians, Natasha Mazzone, of the DA who said: “President Ramaphosa’s SONA was perfect. The speech was built on the critical input we gave him, and he took all of it into consideration. We gave him the DA manifesto and he covered well (sic) in the SONA speech. We are happy as the DA. This was one of the best SONAs.”

I understand the dismay and disbelief of many unemployed South Africans who could be wondering, what has changed so drastically with Ramaphosa since last year?

This year, he told Parliament that government was not in the business of creating jobs and yet 12 months ago he said:“The public sector has a responsibility to stimulate job creation, both through its policies and through direct job-creation opportunities. The Presidential Employment Stimulus is one of the most significant expansions of public and social employment in South Africa’s history.”

Substantially, where does the president’s cosmetic economic reform come from? Why would he throw the ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee (ETC) aspects out of the window?

The ETC does not speak about the president’s cosmetic and ‘far-reaching structural reforms’ when it says: “Progressive forces must contest the economic space to ensure alternative outcomes that truly benefit the poor, the black majority and the working class. The ANC should lead these motive forces, working with Alliance partners and society more broadly, in order to fulfil the historic mission of socio-economic transformation.”

What is this historic mission of socio-economic transformation?
In short, when the ANC took power in 1994, it did so with the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP). This policy was aimed at redressing the inherited gross inequalities of apartheid, socially, economically and spatially.

The ANC government sought to:“…mobilise all our people and our country’s resources toward the final eradication of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future”.

Despite many policy documents since the RDP, progress has not been forthcoming. In fact, I am not so sure if the National Development Plan (NDP), which I thought was the official state’s guide to addressing socio-economic challenges, is adhered to.

The poor are on their own. Photo by Delwyn Verasamy

But according to the ETC, that general idea still remains: “The overarching principles guiding Economic Reconstruction, Growth and Transformation are informed by the Freedom Charter’s injunction that the people shall share in the country’s wealth”.

It says the economic structure of the country does not exist for its sake – it is meant to serve society.

As the ANC continues to disintegrate, it has become increasingly clear that its infighting is not incidental. Once its leaders were expertly seduced toward comfortable surroundings and ultimately outmanoeuvred by the well-resourced apartheid state, and also by international and local pro-market friendly actors, they became each other’s enemy in the quest to earn superior access to the capitalist master’s dinner table.

This assertion may serve as the most plausible explanation of Mazzone’s chest-thumping and why the 2022 SONA completely ignored the poor. It may not be Ramaphosa who has left the people in the lurch, but the ANC…all he did during the SONA, cemented the heart wrenching act of betrayal.

In such hopelessness, perhaps the only option is to speak directly to the owners of South Africa. The rich few captains of industry who have earned substantial success as puppet masters of our government.
It is time corporate South Africa accepted that it needs to rethink its conduct. Otherwise, history will force them to realise that their greed and predatory behaviour places all of us at risk.

Like I stated sometime back, in this column, I wish to invoke the words of economist, Michael Sachs who advised that it’s time to stop thinking about inequality as a problem of the poor, and start thinking about it as a problem for the affluent.

White capitalists and their spineless black proxies, shouldn’t feel triumphant with a puppet government; they are brewing an uprising with eyes wide shut. Justifiably, the people are restless. Way too many people are living in abject poverty – they have nothing to lose and with nothing to lose, the stakes are high.

Be warned!

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