Forum Report: Does the Ramaphosa State of the Nation Address signal a new direction for South Africa?

On Friday the 23rd of February the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) Student and Youth Department held its first forum of the year, titled “Does Ramaphosa’s SONA signal a new direction for SA?”. This discussion was chaired by IFAA’s Student and Youth department coordinator Rekang Jankie and IFAA intern and associate Bongi Maseko.

Rekang began the discussion with an analysis of the political context pertaining to the political transition. Rekang pointed out the disconnect in the reasoning behind the recall of former President Jacob Zuma by the ruling party. This disconnect in narratives being the former President’s “supposed” confusion regarding the reasoning behind his recall and the ruling party’s opaque and evasive responses to lines of questioning in consideration of this point. This ambiguity, Rekang argued, has led to some suspicion and concern.  Rekang then went on to outline a broad understanding of the main proposals introduced in President Ramaphosa’s inaugural SONA, and what these may mean for the new direction that will be set for South Africa. In this outline there was greater focus placed on the proposal of a number of summits throughout the year. Rekang argued that this may be the inception of a “Presidency of Summits”. Rekang went further by enquiring as to whether these summits would be successful in their ability to create concrete solutions which could enact tangible and real social change.

Following this, Bongi took to the floor to speak more on the economic implications of the SONA address. Bongi began by contextualising the recent 2018 budget speech, before looking at possible points of contention that progressives may have with the economic outlook of the the SONA address. Bongi argued that the president’s speech lacked concrete proposals that might address labour’s current concerns. Bongi continued by criticising the budget speech as an indicator of the true conservative orientation of the new administration. It was suggested that Ramaphosa was responding to agitations from the upper classes and not the working class.

Following Bongi’s address the discussion was opened to the floor. This part of the discussion lead to a spirited but productive debate between members of the floor. This debate touched on a number of issues including, the future of the tripartite alliance, the ANC’s current economic policy and its divergence from progressive principles, while also forecasting what the current political period may mean for the 2019 general elections.

One member of the floor raised a question as to why a political analysis of the budget was emphasised over a purely financial and technical policy focused discussion. The co-chairs and audience responded that to separate the economic context from the political conditions which informed such policies would only serve to dilute the substance and accuracy of the conversation. In response to a point raised from the floor, co-chair Rekang Jankie, also cautioned against a framing of individuals as “being used” or “manipulated” when we review their actions. Rekang suggested that his removes an individual’s agency, thus robbing them from accounting or taking responsibility for their decisions.

Thank you to all who attended the forum and participated in a lively discussion.

A recording of the forum can be accessed here.

For more information about this forum and for information on upcoming events email studentandyouth@ifaaza.org.