JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed his government will effectively tackle the country's pressing problems of corruption, nationwide power cuts, high unemployment and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are engaged in a battle for the soul of this country,” said Ramaphosa. “But there can be no doubt that we will win. I ask every South African to rally together in our fight against corruption, in our fight to create jobs, in our fight to achieve a more just and equal society.”
Ramaphosa delivered his State of the Nation address at Cape Town City Hall instead of at the Parliament building which was gutted by fire last month. It was the first time since South Africa's achievement of democracy in 1994 that the presidential address was delivered outside the 138-year-old Parliament building.
In recent weeks the nation has seen a return of disruptive cuts in electricity.
“The electricity crisis is one of the greatest threats to economic and social progress," said Ramaphosa. The state power company's inability to provide a reliable supply of electricity hampers South Africa's economic growth, he said. The continuing power cuts "have a huge impact on the lives of all South Africans, disrupting business activities, and placing additional strains on families and communities,” he said.
Ramaphosa reiterated that he would take firm action against corruption, including pressing criminal charges against those named by a judicial commission as having been involved in graft during the tenure of former President Jacob Zuma from 2008 to 2019.
To help South Africans pressed into poverty by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa said his government will extend a monthly stipend equivalent to about $24 for the next 12 months.
On a lighter note, the president said that his government will explore ways to commercialize the country's production of cannabis.
Ramaphosa said he will make changes to the country's security forces that failed to contain violent riots which broke out in July after the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
More than 300 people were killed when shopping centers and warehouses were looted after Zuma went to prison for defying a court order to testify at a commission of inquiry investigating graft allegations during his tenure as president from 2009 to 2018.
Ramaphosa's speech came as his party, the ruling African National Congress, is bitterly divided between those who support him and his efforts to root out corruption and those who continue to back Zuma.
Cape Town City Hall is no stranger to hosting significant events in South Africa's history. In 1990 it was where Nelson Mandela delivered his first speech after being released from 27 years in prison for his fight against the racial oppression of the apartheid system of white-minority rule.