SONA 2024: even more disappointing than expected

SONA 2024: even more disappointing than expected

We all knew that Cyril Ramaphosa would use his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for electioneering. He’s a politician, after all, and he was speaking in an election year: he would never have been able to resist the opportunity. What we didn’t expect was a litany of lies and ridiculous promises.

Anyone in transport and logistics – and indeed the country en masse – was hoping for positive news to emerge from the SONA. But gosh, we were all bitterly disappointed.

AfriForum said the speech was “a pitiful denial of the way the government is failing its citizens”. Opposition leaders denounced the speech, calling the president “Cyril in Wonderland”. Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Yael Geffen likened the president to the Roman emperor Nero “playing his fiddle as he watched Rome burn”.

Fred Hume, managing director of food importer Hume International, has also been verbose about the SONA. He has said that it is comforting, initially, to hear government express a willingness to change the status quo – whether it’s about the electricity supply or the situation at the ports.

“But two questions immediately raise their heads: Firstly, is it not government itself that has led us to these dire straits? And secondly, even if a genuine desire exists now to clean the mess, does the will and ability exist within the bureaucracy to implement its promises?” Hume asks. “The government’s track record in this regard has been far from impressive, and we see no concrete evidence that gives us hope of this leopard changing its spots.”

Like so many companies in South Africa, Hume International is impacted by the country’s failings when it comes to logistics. “Bringing food into the country via South Africa’s ports is only the first stage of our endeavours, and it’s followed by what is currently another logistical nightmare – that is, transporting that food across the country,” Hume notes.

In his speech, Ramaphosa reminded South Africans that government is “overhauling the freight rail system by allowing private rail operators to access the rail network”.

Hume says this is a welcome move towards fostering competition and potentially improving efficiency. “What remains to be seen, however, is how the government will navigate the regulatory framework around this to ensure fair competition and prevent patronage and corrupt misuse of the system,” he cautions. “We face a further hurdle in the fact that the country’s rail network lies in tatters. This will require considerable will and expenditure to restore.”

It seems that Ramaphosa’s speech did little to allay the fears of business leaders such as Hume. “Hearing encouraging promises at SONA is all very well, but we’ve all heard that political rhetoric on numerous previous occasions. What Hume, as a major food supplier – and South Africans in general – need to witness are concrete steps towards creating a world-class logistics system,” he contends.

Will we see those concrete steps? I really hope so – but to be frank, I have my doubts. As Ramaphosa told us during his address, after casting his ballot on 27 April 1994, Nelson Mandela said: “This is the beginning of a new era. We have moved from an era of pessimism, division, limited opportunities, turmoil, and conflict. We are starting a new era of hope, reconciliation, and nation building.”

I have no doubt that Madiba believed those words. And I also do not doubt that, if he was alive today, he would be deeply disappointed to see what became of that new era, in which hope is in desperately short supply.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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