President Cyril Ramaphosa during Thursday night's state of the nation address in Parliament. Pi​cture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
President Cyril Ramaphosa during Thursday night's state of the nation address in Parliament. Pi​cture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

February 13 2020 should mark the last time President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a state of the nation address that is nothing more than a bunch of beautifully crafted words and lofty platitudes that never translate into action.

This time next year he must be judged — harshly so, if necessary — by how much he has delivered. SA, as finance minister Tito Mboweni will no doubt inform us in his budget speech next week, no longer has the luxury of time.

On Monday, Moody’s dropped its GDP growth forecast for 2020 to 0.7% from the 1% it announced in November. It also lowered its 2021 growth prediction to 0.9% from 1.2% previously. The action has heightened fears that the ratings agency will downgrade SA next month.

Last week’s state of the nation address was Ramaphosa’s fourth as president of SA, and his second since winning a new mandate from the electorate.

And just like that, another fluffy opening of parliament passed, leaving a nation wondering what the point was. It was the same annual display of bluster, magical thinking and politicians as clothes horses, parading their newly acquired finery on a red carpet to nowhere.

It was yet another night of chaos as the EFF reprised its same worn-out playbook, disrupting the house for more than an hour before Ramaphosa was able to deliver his address.

Same script, different cast.

Mercifully, Ramaphosa ditched last year’s smart cities and bullet trains and delivered what was for the most part a sobering address in which he acknowledged that SA is in deep, deep trouble and that the state cannot fix the mess on its own.

But even so he couldn’t resist venturing into fantasy — he announced, with no actual detail, that SA would introduce a sovereign wealth fund and a state bank.

His address, Ramaphosa said, was about inclusive growth. It was about critical actions that will build a capable state and place SA’s comatose economy on the path to recovery. "This year, we fix the fundamentals. And we ensure excellence in planning and execution in government," he said.

So far so good.

And: "We cannot continue along this path. Nor can we afford to stand still."

Now, given the political quicksand the country finds itself perpetually traversing, the president, his ministers and his party need to repeat these words to themselves as a mantra.

But a different path would not necessarily lead to a better result, if one is going to stray from the straight and narrow and become distracted by side issues such as a state bank and the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund. All while SA literally struggles to keep the lights on.

Kicking the can down the road is a waste of time, albeit business as usual for the ANC government.

And the can has indeed been kicked down the road in Ramaphosa’s address.

It will now be up to Mboweni to sketch in the details of how spending will be slashed, what the SA Reserve Bank and the National Treasury will do to ease pressure on business and consumers, how exactly the government plans to establish a state bank and with what excess cash the sovereign wealth fund will be funded.

It’s likely going to be a tough day at the office for the man from Limpopo. But let’s see if Tito can put his money where the president’s mouth is. Talk, after all, is cheap.

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