South Africans are in a state of need. As the economies of the world battle to control the effects of the pandemic that has rendered them helpless, this is a SONA like no other. The nation needs urgent action, not promises. A SONA that does not address the urgent needs of the nation is a crisis itself.
Every year, the State of the Nation Address is delivered to outline the needs of the country and the means through which these needs will be addressed. It provides a sense of direction, which can be positive or otherwise. This year, the SONA can either inspire a sense of optimism or perpetuate pessimism as the Covid-19 pandemic found the country's economy already on the back-foot of progress. With low growth of GDP, record-high unemployment, an unreliable power supply, poor service delivery, a shrinking tax base, high-income inequality- I believe you see the picture.
These are the reasons why, in the words of the IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa "In this year's SONA, the president must not outline plans and promises, it is time for the government to act on the promises they outlined in the 2020 SONA and the Medium-term Policy Statement.” Considering the legacy the last administration has left on the economy and the continued effect the pandemic has on economies, do South Africans have unrealistic expectations for the incumbent? Every micro organ of the SA economy indeed has its own set of unique issues that it expects the SONA to address. The business sector has its own, the education sector, the health sector, etc. But what all these organs have in common is the desperate need for the government to solve the most pressing issues caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Hands-on, day-to-day action is required, trickle down economics is the name of the game.
The majority of these issues have been a living reality for many ordinary South Africans for many years, service delivery being top on that list. We are amid a pandemic in which hygiene is a literal matter of life and death, yet many South Africans do not have access to clean water, forced to drink the same water as the animals around them. If the government had already started addressing this issue, then they need to accelerate their pace.
When it comes to unemployment, the SA economy is not unique. Many economies around the world are grappling with the massive shedding of jobs due to the pandemic, but as entrepreneurs would say, amid chaos lies opportunity. The issue of job creation requires innovation and a government that is in touch with people on the ground, to better understand their needs and take innovative and job-creation orientated steps to meet those needs or effectively partner with stakeholders who are willing to. The SONA needs to clearly state how the government plans to improve the ease of doing business in this country, which is currently not impressive, never mind Covid-19.
Of course, not all of the solutions required are cut and dried, careful planning is required to avoid inefficiency and wasteful expenditure. However, what will restore the optimism of South Africans and the international community is seeing our government taking literal steps in the right direction. At this point of reality, when all is said and done, actions will speak louder than words. Hence, the 2021 SONA needs to be one like no other because if there is something that cannot be denied, it is that South Africa is a nation in need.