The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)’s statement on the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

COSATU welcomes the progressive commitments announced in the State of the Nation Address presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa to Parliament and the nation today and its accounting for the work done by the 6th administration as we head towards the upcoming elections. 

President Ramaphosa’s tasks have been the most difficult of any President since our democratic state was born in 1994.  The President inherited a state devastated by a decade of state capture and corruption.  Shortly after taking office the world was confronted by an unprecedented global pandemic.  Whilst the public, and in particular workers, are frustrated by the many challenges we face, and in particular the at times slow pace in which they are being addressed, we must equally acknowledge where government, led by our ally, the African National Congress (ANC) has done well.

Since taking office, the President has ensured the most compromised persons implicated in state capture and corruption have been removed from key positions in the state and the ANC.  Working with Organised Labour and Business, government did well to manage the pandemic, save lives and livelihoods, ensure the mass roll out of the vaccination campaign and release over R64 billion from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, helping 5.7 million workers across the private sector take care of their families. 

The nation experienced a suffocating 12 hours a day of loadshedding in the beginning of 2023.  Concerted interventions at Eskom have enabled progress to be achieved with loadshedding now less than 2 hours a day with maintenance ramped up and Eskom being relieved of R253 billion worth of debt.  Whilst we welcome the significant improvements on the supply of electricity, we remain concerned that Eskom’s generation fleet is still highly stressed and more support is needed to enable Eskom to bring onboard new generation capacity.  The announcement by the President of new investments to be made in Eskom’s in an additional 14 000 kms of transmission lines and distribution infrastructure is key to ensuring we finally emerge from the dark chapter of loadshedding.  What we cannot afford to do is to abandon Eskom.  It remains our most strategic national asset and must be invested in.

We remain deeply concerned by the state of Transnet, our freight railway network and our ports.  Whilst there have been improvements over the past two months in the ports, we need to see further interventions, from appointing permanent competent management, purchasing additional cranes and tugboats, investments in the skills of staff and infrastructure, and a much more coherent plan to secure our railway network from the clutches of the copper cable syndicates currently wrecking havoc.  We don’t have two years to fix Transnet if we are to save thousands of mining, manufacturing and agricultural jobs.  We are in danger of seeing ships shifting operations to neighbouring states if we do not modernise our ports as a matter of urgency.

The lack of clear plans to turn around Metro Rail, the Post Office and Postbank, Denel, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and other struggling State-Owned Enterprises is simply depressing.  Workers must not be abandoned to the unemployment queue or see their wages being pickpocketed by delinquent management.

Investments made in our dams are welcome.  However, a package of interventions are needed in local government to ensure the water infrastructure backlog is addressed, leaks are plugged and a shift towards water conservation and recycling is commenced.  We are a water scarce country and have seen in many municipalities the real dangers of neglecting water infrastructure.  Action is needed to ensure Day Zeros are a thing of the past.

Unemployment reached a peak at 46% as we emerged from COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.  Whilst no sane person can celebrate a 41% unemployment rate and a 60% youth unemployment rate, we are heartened by the 5% reduction in unemployment over the past year.  It is critical this momentum is maintained.  The Presidential Employment Stimulus has helped employ 1 million young people, enabled them to earn a salary and gain the skills and experience necessary to find long term employment.  We have been bitterly disappointed by the bewildering cuts to the funds for this critical programme.  The President needs to ensure its budget is dramatically increased to enable 1 million active participants by April and 2 million by November 2024.

The Federation applauds the positive work done by government with Organised Labour and Business to enhance South Africa’ trade opportunities through key trade agreements with Africa, Europe and the United States over the past year.  These are key to saving and creating thousands of jobs.  Positive work is being done to support the industrial master plans but more support and in particular resources are needed to ramp local procurement, our industrial plans and export incentives.  These are key to reindustrialising our economy and boosting key economic sectors.  The announcement of the new mining rights application system, if successful, can unlock billions in investments and help turn the mining sector around, save and create thousands of jobs.

COSATU appreciates the President’s open door relationship and partnership with Organised Labour.  This has enabled the introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 2019 raising the wages of six million workers, in particular farm, domestic, hospitality, construction, transport and security workers.  The minimum wage has been consistently increased at above inflation levels since it was introduced and in fact has nearly doubled for 900 000 domestic workers.

The SRD Grant, with all of its limitations, has provided an invaluable lifeline to 8 million unemployed persons.  Whilst we are angry that government has failed to adjust it once since it was introduced in 2020 to protect its value from inflationary erosion, we appreciate and hope the commitment by the President that it will be increased and extended will find expression in the Budget.  It is urgent that it be increased to recover value lost to inflation by April 2024 and to the Food Poverty Line by November 2024.  Its participants should be offered skills and employment opportunities too.

The Federation welcomes efforts to ramp up the fight against crime, corruption and tax evasion.  The investments in the South African Revenue Service, in particular filling critical vacancies and appointing competent management has seen excellent progress in tackling tax evasion yielding additional billions in revenue due to the state and needed to fund the public services society depends upon.  SARS needs to be allocated additional funds to raise our tax compliance rate from 64% to 70% over the next two years and thus ensure the state has the revenue it needs to fund public services.

Whilst we welcome the freezing of R14 billion, recovery of nearly R9 billion, the collection of R5 billion in owed taxes and litigation of R64 billion as positive steps in the fight against corruption, much more needs to be done to reinforce our law enforcement organs.  The employment of an additional 30 000 police officers is a positive boost but more a needed.  Equally critical vacancies in the National Prosecuting Authority and our courts must be filled if we are to win the war against crime and corruption.

Parliament has passed key progressive laws improving the rights and protections of workers, including providing occupational injury and diseases’ insurance for domestic workers, increasing obligations on employers to abide by our employment equity law and requiring businesses doing business with the state to be in compliance with the National Minimum Wage as well as the National Health Insurance Bill.

Healthcare, public healthcare is under severe strain and not able to fulfil its mandate.  Private healthcare is unaffordable to the overwhelming majority of South Africans.  We commend Parliament’s passage of the National Health Insurance Bill and the President’s commitment to signing this long overdue groundbreaking Bill and look forward to its rolling out.  We cannot continue to watch whilst millions die of easily identifiable, preventable and manageable diseases and illnesses.

The deterioration in the state of local government over the past decade is deeply worrying.  We are disappointed that SONA contained no practical plans to turn the increasing number of dysfunctional municipalities around.  COSATU will continue to work with our Affiliate, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union, to deal with the 36 municipalities who routinely fail to pay their employees or provide quality municipal services.

We had hoped to hear a firm commitment by government to move away from the reckless austerity budget cuts that have weakened key frontline services.  The pending Budget needs to mark a shift towards investing in the quality public services that the economy and the working class depend upon, in particular NSFAS, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Fund, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, Home Affairs and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.  Working class communities deserve well resourced public services.

Now that the SONA has been tabled, government must table a bold, aggressive and decisive Budget at Parliament on 21 February to ensure its progressive objectives materialise.  We do not have the luxury of time.  Nor can we afford business as usual.

Issued by COSATU.

For further information please contact:

Matthew Parks

Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator

Cell: 082 785 0687


6th Floor, Constitution House,

124 Adderley Street,

Cape Town 8000, South Africa