Watching the State of the Nation Addresses  

SONA promises

Over the years, OUTA has commented on the President's annual State of the Nation Address. Most years we've found the speeches uninspiring, with recycled promises that are not implemented. In 2024, we decided to switch it off.

SONA 2020

In 2020, OUTA called for a speech to give hope to South Africa. See here.

If there ever was a time that South Africa needed a SONA speech that was compelling and committed to meaningful action that will lift our country out of its current downward trajectory, it is now.  Over the past decade, impressive statements and promises have been made in SONA speeches, but not enough has been delivered to improve the lives of the ordinary citizen. SONA speeches over the past decade have shown us that some of the key targets on poverty alleviation, infrastructural development, job creation, health matters and general economic improvement have, unfortunately, fallen short.

We pointed out that the SONAs have a history of empty promises on municipal reform. See here.

Since the 2009 SONA, Presidents Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa have promised to turn around local government. The reality is that the opposite has occurred. Municipalities continue to deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate. Many are less fiscally prudent, more susceptible to tender corruption, and hamstrung by intra- and inter-party political disputes, resulting in reduced maintenance, failed service delivery and ongoing social unrest.

The Local Government Turnaround Strategy (LGTS) was adopted in 2009 and highlighted in President Zuma’s SONA 2010 and SONA 2011, but has had no effect. The strategy listed 39 achievable milestones to be reached by 2011 and 2014. Nearly every milestone was missed and six years later these have still not been achieved. The problems highlighted in that report still persist today. The milestones included making sure political parties did not destabilise municipalities, electing office bearers and appointing officials fit for purpose with the required skills, implementing performance management of councillors, implementing transparent supply chain management systems, holding a single election (national, provincial and local), eradicating informal settlements, making cities cleaner through effective waste management, eliminating violent service delivery protests and making sure all provinces and municipalities have clean audits. Between the 2009 and 2018 State of Local Government Report, 261 municipalities have been deemed financially distressed with 190 of those being deemed as such more than once

After the President's speech, we said that we want to believe in his vision and plans, but unless the promises made are followed by concrete, faster implementation South Africa will remain in a precarious state. We are running out of time. President Ramaphosa’s SONA 2020 contains substantive promises of change to strengthen the capacity of the state and promote a culture of accountability. The President's vision, however, can only become a reality when those in authority lead by example and begin a meaningful cost-cutting journey from the top. We still need to see the promised public performance agreements for ministers, along with a real “new culture of transparency and accountability”.  While senior leaders implicated in state capture continue to walk free, society will remain rightfully wary in this regard. See more here.

SONA 2021

We called SONA 2021 uninspiring and lacking believable action, with old recycled promises. We came up with a list of what we would have liked to have seen instead, for example, that the value of every SOE will be  assessed with a clear plan presented for those to be closed, sold or amalgamated, within six months, and that this assessment includes an SIU list of those to face prosecution for corruption and maladministration.  See more here.

SONA 2022

In 2022, we said the SONA again lacked delivery and that we were tired of promises that are not carried through. See more here.

President Ramaphosa’s undertaking of action against state capture and Cabinet failures on national security were the most important part of SONA 2022. Rapid and significant delivery on these promises will instil public confidence, as accountability is long overdue on these matters. 

The President acknowledged the devastation of state capture and the Cabinet’s responsibility for failures in July, and promised action on both these matters, in what we hope will be the first significant efforts by the executive to implement accountability. “We know that the fight against corruption is far from over,” he told us, and we agree. 

We are still waiting for accountability against ministers who failed South Africa during the July 2021 riots, and those linked to state capture. Let this not be the era of blaming all state failures on the state capture gang of the Zuma administration and an ongoing failure to act decisively.

SONA 2023

In 2023, the President again failed to inspire confidence. See more of our comment here

The President acknowledged many of the problems but did not offer believable solutions. He offered many promises, many of which we’ve heard before. It would be wonderful if all these promises were realised or even underway. The President sought to inspire hope, but he succeeded in reminding us how bad the situation really is. His address confirms the country has been poorly managed for too long.

The President used his SONA to announce the declaration of a state of national disaster over the electricity supply crisis and a new Minister of Electricity. OUTA does not believe this is an appropriate way to deal with the electricity crisis, and that a national state of disaster is likely to be used to loot government resources. Two weeks later OUTA filed legal action challenging the state of disaster, and ultimately won this case. See more on OUTA's legal action against the state of disaster here.

SONA 2024: SONA So What

In 2024, OUTA decided to switch off the SONA, in a "SONA So What" campaign and suggested that citizens also disengage as part of demanding a more meaningful discourse.

 “OUTA’s decision to ‘check out’ of SONA wasn’t taken lightly, as we don’t want to send the wrong message when it comes to citizen participation in democracy,” said Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO. “Sometimes it is necessary to visibly disengage with government in a manner of protest, in instances where the message being communicated is not authentic and appeals to clear political agendas. SONA has become one such event of political posturing and empty rhetoric, when in fact the public need to hear the real issues of the State of our Nation.” See more here and here.

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