Sona commitments must be met with resources

Cosatu Secretary, Solly Phetoe.

Cosatu Secretary, Solly Phetoe.

Published Feb 14, 2024


By Solly Phetoe

The State of the Nation Address’s (Sona’s) progressive commitments must now be met with resources in the upcoming Budget.

Cosatu welcomes the progressive commitments announced in the Sona by President Cyril Ramaphosa as well its accounting for the work done by the 6th administration as we head towards the elections.

Ramaphosa’s tasks have been the most difficult of any president since our democracy was born in 1994. He inherited a state devastated by a decade of state capture and corruption.

Shortly after taking office we were confronted by a global pandemic. While workers are frustrated by the many challenges we face and the slow pace in which they are being addressed, we equally acknowledge where government, led by our ally, the 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 the state and the ANC.

Working with Organised Labour and Business, government did well managing the pandemic, saving lives and livelihoods, ensure the mass roll out of the vaccination campaign and releasing R65 billion from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, helping 5.7 million workers.

The nation experienced a suffocating 12 hours a day of load shedding in the beginning of 2023. Concerted interventions have seen load shedding now average 2 hours a day with maintenance ramped up and Eskom relieved of R253bn worth of debt.

While we welcome these improvements, Eskom’s generation fleet remains highly stressed and more support is needed to bring on board new generation capacity.

The announcement of new investments to be made in an additional 14 000km of transmission lines is key to ending loadshedding.

The state of Transnet is deeply concerning. While there have been improvements over the past two months in the ports, we need 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 pandemic of copper cable theft.

We don’t have two years to fix Transnet if we are to save thousands of mining, manufacturing and agricultural jobs.

The absence of plans to turn around Metro Rail, the Post Office and Postbank, Denel, the SABC and other struggling State-Owned Enterprises is simply depressing.

Investments made in our dams are welcome. However, a package of interventions is needed in local government to ensure the water infrastructure backlog is addressed.

We are a water scarce country and have seen in many municipalities the real dangers of neglecting water infrastructure.

The deterioration in the state of municipalities is deeply worrying. We are disappointed Sona contained no practical plans to turn this crises around.

Unemployment peaked at 46% as we emerged from Covid-19. While no one celebrates a 41% unemployment rate, we are heartened by the 5% reduction in unemployment since 2023. This momentum must be maintained.

The Presidential Employment Stimulus has helped 1 million people earn a salary and gain the experience necessary to find long term employment. We have been bewildered by cuts to 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.

We applaud work done to boost South Africa’ export opportunities through key trade agreements with Africa, Europe and the United States. These are key to saving thousands of jobs.

Positive work is being done to support the industrial master plans but more resources are needed to ramp local procurement and boost our exports.

The new mining rights application system, if successful, can unlock billions in investments and turn the mining sector around creating thousands of jobs.

Cosatu appreciates the president’s partnership with organised labour. This has produced the National Minimum Wage in 2019 raising the wages of six million workers across the private sector.

The minimum wage has been substantially increased since and has nearly doubled for 2 million farm and domestic workers.

The SRD Grant, with all of its limitations, has provided an invaluable lifeline to 8 million unemployed persons. Whilst we are angry government has failed to adjust it once since it was introduced to protect it from inflation, we hope the commitment by the President that it will be increased and extended will see it being adjusted for inflation in the April budget and raised to the Food Poverty Line by November.

The investments in the South African Revenue Service has seen excellent progress in tackling tax evasion yielding additional revenue due to the state needed to fund public services society depends upon.

Sars needs to be allocated resources to raise tax compliance to 70%.

While welcoming the freezing of R14bn, recovery of nearly R9bn, the collection of R5bn in owed taxes and litigation for R64bn as positive steps in the fight against corruption, much more needs to be done to tackle this cancer.

The employment of an additional 30 000 police officers is positive but more are needed. Critical vacancies in the National Prosecuting Authority and our courts must be filled if we are to win this war.

Parliament has passed progressive laws improving the rights 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 compliance with the National Minimum Wage, as well as the National Health Insurance Bill.

The Budget needs to mark a shift towards investing not under resourcing the quality public services society depends 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.

Now that the Sona has passed, government must table a bold and decisive Budget at Parliament to ensure its progressive objectives materialise. We do not have the luxury of time nor can we afford business as usual.

Solly Phetoe is Cosatu General Secretary.