The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa today, 10th of February 2022.
While the SONA spoke to the familiar common issues that we have discussed as part of the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, unfortunately, it does not represent a radical shift that the current moment demands. The economy remains subdued, bogged down by electricity supply constraints, and low private sector investment amid the persistent global COVID-19 crisis. This moment does not demand gradual tinkering with policy in certain areas but calls for an overhaul of the overall architecture of the government’s policy.
Vaccines– The Federation welcomes the progress made by government in securing vaccines to protect the nation against Covid-19 but much more remains to be done by government and society at large to ensure that we reach the target vaccinating at least 70% of the population, including ensuring that people receive their booster shots. There is an urgent need to ramp up education programmes to address the concerns and fears of those who have not vaccinated.
Health -We note and welcome progress in building local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. The employment of additional health workers and progress in processing the National Health Insurance Bill is commended.
Eskom– There is more that must still be done to rebuild Eskom because the economy will not recover without a reliable and affordable electricity supply. The implementation of the Eskom Social Compact must be accelerated, and Eskom’s 20% tariff hike request must be rejected. The focus should be on helping the power utility to reduce its debt level to more affordable levels, to ramp up maintenance programmes, and to bring on additional generation capacity to avoid load shedding. We need a Just Energy Transition that accommodates exposed workers and communities and that also keeps the power utility must at the hands of the state.
Metrorail/Transnet– The Federation is deeply concerned by the deterioration of Transnet and Metrorail. Transnet forms the backbone of job creation and economy revival because the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors will be disrupted if Transnet implodes.
Metrorail’s survival is vital to ensuring that working class families in our urban areas travel to work and to school safely. There is an urgent need for government to resuscitate and strengthen the SAPS Railway Unit and deploy the SANDF to secure our railway network. The export of scrap copper and copper ingots needs to be banned if we are to tackle rampant cable theft. The country’s Ports need to be modernised to eliminate long queues.
SOES- Workers remains perturbed by the continuing deterioration and collapse of key SOEs, including DENEL, the Post Office and SABC. The Presidential SOE Council does not seem to have done much to fix this problem and government needs to urgently work with Labour to develop turnaround plans that will help stabilize, save, and rebuild these SOEs. We cannot afford to have workers who are forced to sit for months on end with no pay or the mass retrenchments that are currently taking place in these state companies.
Municipalities – The Federation is extremely bothered by government’s silence in the face of collapsing municipalities who not only fail to deliver basic services to the people but also fail to pay their workers. This has led to an exodus of businesses from these municipalities, destroying livelihoods and leaving them economic wastelands.
Loan Guarantee Scheme– We note the commitment to develop an improved successor to the Loan Guarantee Scheme to support SMMEs.We want to see the state Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) given a role to play in this new scheme. The government needs to finalise the amendment of Regulation 28 to allow for investments in infrastructure projects because this economy needs a stimulus.
Local Procurement– The government needs to do more to support the 15 industrial master plans and the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan’s local procurement programmes. The government must designate further large-scale items for local procurement like government vehicles, clothing, and furniture, as well as steel and construction machinery.
SARS– We note and applaud the progress in the rebuilding of SARS. The government must do more to reinforce SARS, ensuring all goods entering the nation’s ports are inspected and they pay the full customs due. This will generate badly needed revenue for the state, protect local jobs and ensure the success of our industrialisation programmes. SARS must be empowered to undertake lifestyle audits of political office bearers and senior managers across the state and SOEs.
Presidential Employment Programme -The creation of 850 000 job opportunities through the Presidential Employment Programme is welcome. The budget needs to double its funding to ensure that it can create 2 million badly needed jobs. This will help young people earn a salary, learn badly needed skills, and enhance public services.
R350 Grant -The Federation welcomes the extension of the R350 SRD Grant, and we believe it provides for a foundation for a basic income grant. This will provide badly needed relief to more than 10 million unemployed persons. The budget needs to enhance it and narrow its gap with the food poverty line. Its delivery needs to be shifted to electronic payments and linked to skills training programmes to help its 10 million recipients find and create jobs.
Corruption- The government needs to move with speed and act on the Zondo Commission into Corruption and State Capture reports. This must include prioritising corruption cases, overhauling the public procurement system and creating a single online and transparent procurement system encompassing the entire state. The perpetrators must be arrested and prosecuted and all those implicated in corruption must have their assets confiscated. The government must also use the powers given to it by the Auditing Amendment Act to hold personally liable accounting officers for corruption.
SAPS/NPA-The Federation finds it incomprehensible that eight months after the violence that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and cost R50 billion in damages and thousands of jobs, we have yet to see one person tried and convicted.
The speed with which the National Prosecuting Authority and the SAPS are moving to deal with such cases is deeply worrying. If their leadership is not willing to do what must be done, then they must be removed. The proposals to strengthen the capacity of SAPS are welcome and the upcoming budget must speak to this commitment.
Collective Bargaining– As government prepares to table the 2022/23 budget, COSATU hopes that government will move away from its recent tendency of undermining collective bargaining. Matters of wages and collective bargaining must be dealt with in the legally established collective bargaining forums, including the PSCBC and SALGA Bargaining Council.
Social Compact -COSATU supports the President’s call for a social compact, and we have tabled principles to achieve a comprehensive and progressive social compact at Nedlac. It is critical that it be premised on protecting workers and providing solidarity to the poor. It needs to include cuts on the exorbitant packages paid to politicians and the captains of industry. It needs to protect the rights of workers, defend collective bargaining, and protect the wages of workers from being eroded by inflation. It must include a freeze on retrenchments and mass job creation interventions. A social compact premised upon eroding workers’ hard-won constitutional rights and will not be accepted. The loss of 2.2 million jobs during the past two years has shown that our labour laws need to be strengthened and not weakened.
Whilst the SONA contains some workable proposals, it is obvious that this administration refuses to acknowledge that the prolonged economic crisis reflects the fact that the prescriptions of big capital have been tried and have dismally failed to provide solutions to our economic and social problems.
The implementation of the neoliberal GEAR package has failed to grow the economy and produce the promised investment. There is ,therefore, a loud cry for alternative policy solutions, but sadly our government continues to subordinate our economy to these failed policies.
Currently, vast amounts of our human resources are wasted as an estimated 72% of the unemployed are young people between 15—36 years of age. In fact, we are caught in a vicious cycle of our untransformed economy as on average, 400 000 young people are released from the basic schooling system after matric without proceeding with their studies beyond. This is a recipe for disaster, and it remains a source of social instability.
Lastly, we hope that the upcoming Budget to be tabled in Parliament on the 23rd of February will speak to the SONA and it will be a budget that stimulates and not suffocate economic growth.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794