S. Africa's Ramaphosa pledges jobs, end to power cuts in key speech

South Africa South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa must rally support in a crucial election year.  By EMMANUEL CROSET AFP
FEB 8, 2024 LISTEN
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa must rally support in a crucial election year. By EMMANUEL CROSET (AFP)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Thursday that an end to crippling power cuts was "within reach" and pledged thousands of new jobs in a key speech ahead of knife-edge elections this year.

With his historically dominant African National Congress (ANC) party struggling in the polls, Ramaphosa used a state of the nation address to highlight steps taken to address the prolonged energy crisis that has vexed businesses and families alike.

"We are confident that the worst is behind us and the end of load shedding is finally within reach," he said using the local term for blackouts in a speech to lawmakers at Cape Town City Hall.

"But we are not stopping there," he added, touting new reforms and investments including more than 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles) of new transmission lines to accommodate renewable energy to be rolled out in the coming years.

"With our abundance of solar, wind and mineral resources, we are going to create thousands of jobs in renewable energy, green hydrogen, green steel, electric vehicles and other green products," Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa, 71, is facing an uphill battle to rally support behind the scandal-tainted ANC, which polls suggest risks losing parliamentary majority for the first time.

In power since the advent of democracy in 1994, the party of late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has been tainted by graft and mismanagement amid high unemployment and a slumbering economy.

Rampahosa defended his record, saying his government "made significant progress on measures to grow the economy, create jobs and reduce poverty."

"While we have set in motion the process of renewal and reform, there is more work to be done to see these reforms through to the end," he said.

It was the third time he has had to give the address at City Hall after the nation's parliament was ravaged by arson in 2022.

But coming shortly before what is expected to be the most competitive vote in three decades, it was most closely watched of his seven annual speeches since taking office in 2018.

Stolen billions

Polls suggest the ANC could win as little as 40 percent of the vote -- something that would force it to seek a coalition government to stay in power.

Without naming him, Ramaphosa took a swipe at his predecessor Jacob Zuma, 81, who last month was suspended from the ruling party after backing the breakaway uMkhonto We Sizwe (MK) or Spear of the Nation, party, which threatens to take votes away from ANC.

Listing the challenges that South Africa has faced in recent decades, Ramaphosa said that "perhaps the greatest damage" to the nation was inflicted by the period of massive corruption that marked Zuma's rule.

"For a decade, individuals at the highest levels of the state conspired with private individuals to take over and repurpose state owned enterprises, law enforcement agencies and other public institutions," Ramaphosa said.

"Billions of rands that were meant to meet the needs of ordinary South Africans were stolen".

He also boasted the ANC's credentials as the liberation movement that brought democracy to South Africa and listed some of its accomplishments, including social assistance and economic empowerment programmes that helped lift many from poverty.

Ramaphosa is expected to announce the date of the elections for national and provincial MPs over the next two weeks.

Polls indicate that the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), a liberal party, could win between 19 percent and 31 percent of votes.

The party which has formed a coalition with several other groups, is currently battling for second place with the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters.

The vote is to be held between May and August.