President Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered his first State of the Nation (SONA) address to Parliament this evening, following the resignation of former president Jacob Zuma on Wednesday. The new president gave a realistic yet cautiously opportunistic State of the Nation Address. Here are nine key takeouts from SONA, in which he addressed jobs, the economy in general and the questions of land expropriation and free education.

1. He called this moment a ‘new dawn’

Ramaphosa began by invoking the legacies of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu to call the nation together under a unified vision. He also acknowledged where we are now:

‘We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders. We should put all the negativity that has dogged our country behind us because a new dawn is upon us.’

‘We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.’

2. He acknowledged that the state of the nation is a highly unequal one

Ramaphosa did not ignore the severity of the situation facing the country, and acknowledged that it’s both a legacy of apartheid and a failure of the present government.

‘We know that there is still a lot that divides us. We remain a highly unequal society, in which poverty and prosperity are still defined by race and gender. We have been given the responsibility to build a new nation, to confront the injustices of the past and the inequalities of the present. We are called upon to do so under difficult conditions.’

3. He says we’ve come a long way but there’s a lot to be done in key areas

Ramaphosa briefly overviewed successes of the ANC government in providing social support, public employment programmes and free basic services, but emphasised that there’s a lot to do, starting now. He hinted at a tough year ahead as strong action is needed to prevent an economic downgrade and sort out national debt.

‘Our task, as South Africans, is to seize this moment of hope and renewal, and to work together to ensure that it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our people.

This year, we will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation.’

4.  JOBS are a major focus, so here’s the plan of action:

Ramaphosa said that jobs for young people are at the centre of the picture, and promised several initiatives:

  • A ‘jobs summit’ that will bring together stakeholders from all sectors, that will come up with implementable solutions
  • Growth to create jobs will be achieved by encouraging investment, starting with an  ‘investment conference’ to attract domestic and international money
  • The decline of manufacturing (and accompanying job losses) will be halted by localisation of production of various products, and an aim to re-industrialise at scale
  • A youth employment service will be established to ‘place unemployed youth in paid internships across the economy’
  • A youth working group to engage young people and draw them into conversation with national leadership on how to include them.

5. He addressed the transformation of the economy

Stimulating the economy will, according to Ramaphosa, be accompanied by a continued focus on growing black business, particularly woman-owned.

‘Through measures like preferential procurement and the black industrialists programme, we are developing a new generation of black and women producers…

‘We will improve our capacity to support black professionals, deal decisively with companies that resist transformation, use competition policy to open markets up to new black entrants, and invest in the development of businesses in townships and rural areas. Radical economic transformation requires that we fundamentally improve the position of black women and communities in the economy, ensuring that they are owners, managers, producers and financiers.’

6. Land expropriation will happen

The subject of land was a consistent feature during the presidential race, and Ramaphosa clarified the way forward:

‘We will accelerate our land redistribution programme, not only to redress a grave historical injustice, but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation. We will pursue a comprehensive approach… that will include the expropriation of land without compensation.’

How it will work is still going to be determined, but the President highlighted that the financial sector will need to come on board to finance investment in agriculture and land redistribution.

7. Free higher education (for the poor) will be phased in

Ramaphosa responded to former President Zuma’s announcement of free higher education, which the country has been speculating about since December.

‘Starting this year, free higher education and training will be available to first year students from households with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000.’

8. There will be some changes in government

The President indicated that there will be changes to the size and shape of the government, that state-owned enterprises (like ESKOM and SAA) will undergo a clean-up, and that key institutions like the NPA and SARS will be strengthened.

  • The government: ‘It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources. We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.’
  • SOEs: There will be an intervention, and a clean-up (he specifically referred to improved auditing), and board members will not be involved in procuring.
  • A general clean-up: ‘This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions.’

9. Private-sector corruption will also be addressed

In the wake of the McKinsey and Steinhoff scandals, he made sure to address corruption in all areas (not only the government).

‘We must fight corruption, fraud and collusion in the private sector with the same purpose and intensity…We will make sure that we deal with both in an effective manner.’

President Ramaphosa ended his State of the Nation speech with a quote from the late Bra Hugh Masekela.

You can read the full SONA speech here.