SONA 2024: Failing the Children of Democracy

SONA 2024: Failing the Children of Democracy

With a cheerful demeanour, President Ramaphosa took the stage tonight and lauded the government’s great achievements of the past 30 years – 30 years of democracy. He spoke at length about a girl-child born 30 years ago and how her life, in stark contrast to that of her parents, is much better. This formed the backbone of Ramaphosa’s speech, making me wonder if he presides over a different country than the one, I live in.

As South Africans, we are accustomed to the ritualistic dance of promises and platitudes that accompany the State of the Nation Address (SONA). It is a time when we anticipate grand declarations, envisioning a brighter future, only to be left disillusioned by the harsh reality when the same issues are once again spoken about but not addressed as we roll over to the next SONA. It became painfully clear that while celebrating 30 years of democracy, his speech lauded the good and barely scratched the surface on the bad and the ugly.

One cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu as familiar issues once again take centre stage: load shedding, unemployment, corruption, poverty, and the rising cost of living. These are the elephants in the room that no amount of political rhetoric can disguise. Despite the President's attempts to paint a rosy picture of progress, the stark reality of everyday South Africans tells a different story.

Consider the plight of Children of Democracy: With an unemployment rate hovering around 58% for those aged 15-24, we are witnessing a lost generation, robbed of opportunities and hope. This is not the legacy we should be leaving for those who have only known life in a democratic South Africa.

Moreover, corruption continues to haunt our nation, eroding trust in our institutions and siphoning off much-needed resources. While the President speaks of progress in recovering stolen funds and cracking down on corruption, the reality on the ground tells a different tale. Opposition parties either disagreed vocally with Ramaphosa’s views on progress or sat quietly shaking their heads in disbelief.

Then there is the issue of basic services, such as education and healthcare, which remain out of reach for many. While President Ramaphosa lauds the achievements of programs like free education and social grants, the glaring disparities in access and quality persist. Pit toilets in schools, mismanagement of funds at institutions like NSFAS, and the daily struggles of ordinary South Africans paint a stark contrast to the narrative of progress touted from the podium.

As expected, the signing of the NHI bill was applauded by the ANC members, and Ramaphosa gave brief outlines of a staged implementation. The impact of this bill on our economy and medical personnel remains to be seen.

But perhaps most glaring is the failure to address the fundamental challenges facing our economy. Despite promises of job creation and investment, the reality is that our economy remains stagnant, burdened by inefficiencies and structural constraints. The energy crisis, epitomized by the scourge of load shedding, continues to stifle growth and deter investment. And while renewable energy initiatives offer a glimmer of hope, they alone cannot offset the systemic failures that plague our economy.

Ramaphosa hides behind COVID-19, the Russia-Ukraine war, the economic crisis of 2007/2008, and state capture and corruption, stating that other countries face similar challenges, but as we stand on the precipice, the time for empty promises and half-measures is over.

The children of democracy deserve better – they deserve leaders who are committed to building a future where opportunity is not a luxury, but a birthright.

President Ramaphosa, as part of his closure, states: "We will, we will, we will."

But the Children of Democracy ask: “Why haven’t you already?”