New President’s SONA address like drought-breaking rain

Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address was like a week of cool, drought-breaking rain, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The dark mood has lifted, the air smells better and, like farmers, we can now plan new crops and investments,” said Ms Janine Myburgh, President of the Chamber.

“We have lived through a long season of bad news and suppressed hope, but some of the things the new president has said and done have been heartening. This is already reflected in the improved exchange rate and the rise of business confidence.”

The whole tone of the address was a pleasant change from the past and the commitment to serve the people was welcome.

Ms Myburgh said there was a long hard road ahead, but President Ramaphosa had got the priorities right. Corruption required urgent attention and it was already clear that the government is no longer just making promises. The clean-up had actually started and accountability was not just a word anymore.

She said the Chamber would watch the coming cabinet reshuffle with great interest because it would give strong indications or the new direction the country was taking. “We welcome his promise of a smaller and less expensive Cabinet. Some of the things that have to be done are obvious and he can expect broad support, but there are also difficult areas like land reform and expropriation without compensation – which we are opposed to.”

“Modern farming, especially in the Western, Cape is capital intensive and without secure property rights, farmers will be reluctant to invest in the modern irrigation systems that have made farms so productive. Also banks will want that security before advancing loans. This is going to be a very difficult area and we will be watching closely,” Ms Myburgh said.

The other vital area was in labour law reform where there had long been agreement on the need to make it easier for businesses to employ young, inexperienced workers. “We need some movement here and we need strike ballots to make the work place more democratic. Business and labour agreed on strike ballots at Nedlac but the legislation was never introduced. Secret strike ballots should reduce intimidation and they should end much of the violence we see in strike seasons,” Ms Myburgh said.

Given President Ramaphosa’s experience in labour relations and business, this would be a key area. “We have someone who understands both sides of the issue, but the key might be his alliance partners and whether they were amenable to the kind of compromises South Africa needs,” Ms Myburgh said. “The key question is how will he deal with the inevitable push back?”