Mandy Wiener8 February 2024 | 4:33

MANDY WIENER: Bucket of salt and rose-tinted glasses required for SONA this year

Bucket of salt? Check! Rose-tinted glasses? Check! You are ready for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address.

MANDY WIENER: Bucket of salt and rose-tinted glasses required for SONA this year

President Cyril Ramaphosa conducted an oversight visit to rural Mkhambathini on 31 January 2023 in line with the Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme. Picture: Supplied/GCIS

There is much to celebrate in Mzanzi right now. We are twice Rugby World Cup champions, Bafana Bafana has surprised us all with an uplifting Afcon run, Tyla won a Grammy, the world now knows what we know about Dricus and Jackson Chauke is a world title holder.

You can expect President Cyril Ramaphosa to start with that when he delivers his State of the Nation Address on Thursday evening. This will be Ramaphosa’s seventh SONA of this 6th administration. Technically though it’s Ramaphosa’s eighth SONA in total.

This year marks thirty years of democracy in South Africa and it is an election year which means we can expect revisionist history, a whitewashing of the ANC government’s achievements thus far and much backslapping. 

Ramaphosa and the ANC need to remind the country about its achievements since taking office in 1994 but particularly to frame those successes over the past six years since Zuma and his contingent left office. 

The Presidency has put out a document packed with infographics, highlighting its successes over the past five years. You can read it here if you feel inclined. Expect this to be the study guide cheat sheet for SONA.

You will likely hear a focus on what has been done to roll back the impact of State Capture, the rebuilding of the NPA and the Hawks, the work done to renew SARS and attempts to fix Eskom and loadshedding and bring more capacity onto the grid. 

A key refrain from Ramaphosa and the current crop of cabinet ministers has been how the lives of South Africans are far better today than they were under apartheid. That they are. More people have access to running water, electricity, and sanitation. As an example, the percentage of South African households that were connected to the mains electricity supply increased from 76.7% in 2002 to 89.6% in 2022.

We can also expect the President to highlight the projects in government that have been working. The 134 bridges being built in six provinces as part of the Welisizwe construction project, aimed at addressing the backlog of bridge infrastructure in rural and disadvantaged communities. He will also highlight the social grant system in South Africa considering more than half of the population of 60 million people are dependent on some form of grant or another.

South Africans are going to require far more than a pinch of salt to listen to this SONA. They will also require rose-tinted glasses to see the Mzanzi that the ANC is presenting to the electorate. 

What the President does not speak about will be far more important than what he does talk about. Poverty, high unemployment, a stuttering economy, the government’s debt burden, loadshedding, corruption, failing municipalities, crippled ports, and rail networks. All of that. 

Historically, Ramaphosa’s SONA’s have included a magical panacea to a problem or a great big fluffy, shiny unicorn to distract us from the rest of the speech. Last year we were all talking about Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, a Minister of Electricity and a State of Disaster to fix the power crisis. The year before there was the novel quick fix of a red tape cutter being appointed to the Presidency in the form of Sipho Nkosi. The year before that there was the far-fetched dream of a smart city and bullet trains. Even Thuma Mina got us all swept up in the Ramaphoria of the moment.

The President may not try to distract us with a shiny new toy this SONA. He will try to convince us of all the achievements of the past thirty years of democracy. If you are going to watch, make sure you are armed with a bucket of salt and that you are wearing your rose-tinted glasses. 

Author and journalist Mandy Wiener is the host of The Midday Report on 702 and CapeTalk.