Growing momentum in turning economy around should not be lost

Solly Phetoe is the general secretary of Cosatu.

Solly Phetoe is the general secretary of Cosatu.

Published May 13, 2024


By Solly Phetoe

In two weeks we will be heading to the polls, reflecting on how far we have come, the challenges we are grappling with and our hopes.

It is natural during elections for slogans to be thrown around. While this is part of democracy, we should not lose sight of where we have done well and where we need to do better.

If one takes an objective view of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration, one can see real progress in cleansing the state of corruption, growing the economy and reducing unemployment.

Ramaphosa inherited the most difficult challenges of any president since 1994. Among other daunting crises, the state was riddled with corruption and haemorrhaging revenue; the economy was crippled by load shedding and chaos at our ports and railway networks; the world was shut down by a global pandemic; and there was geopolitical instability.

In spite of these, we have seen remarkable progress under the leadership of President Ramaphosa, working with business, labour and ordinary South Africans to turn things around and build that better life.

A year ago, the economy was struggling with 12 hours of load shedding a day; today, we have not experienced load shedding for more than a month as Eskom’s R253 billion debt relief package kicks in, maintenance is ramped up and new generation capacity is being brought on board.

The mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors – key sources of jobs and taxes – have battled with port congestion and cable theft on our freight rail.

Today, the queues at our ports have been slashed, new cranes and machinery are coming in and competent management appointed.

Metro Rail, key to transporting millions, was particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 lockdown. While it still has much to do, most lines have re-opened, with the remainder to be completed shortly.

While we applaud this tangible progress and the positive impact it’s having on the economy, we remain concerned about the state of other critical state-owneed enterprises and entities, in particular the Post Office, Denel and the SABC.

The difference now is that corrupt and incompetent management are being removed and we are able to put in place turnaround plans to stabilise and rebuild these once-thriving institutions and to save and create jobs.

Local government remains a matter of deep concern. It is critical we move quickly to roll out government’s district development model and capacity programmes for 140 municipalities, to tackle corruption and improve their financial management.

It is never easy to overcome corruption, especially if it was orchestrated by some of the most powerful persons in society. Yet today, we live in a society where a police commissioner can be imprisoned, a former president convicted, or a Speaker of the National Assembly charged. That is exactly what we need – political accountability.

Key to eradicating this cancer is building state capacity. An additional 25 000 SA Police Service personnel are being hired, with similar efforts to beef up the National Prosecuting Authority.

The SA Revenue Service has been a revelation. With new competent management, the hiring of 490 additional staff and investing in its IT capacity, it’s showing remarkable results, with tax compliance up and additional revenues – which public services, the economy and society depend upon – being generated. We have seen a crackdown on illicit imports and hefty convictions for tax evasion.

Our challenges are complex and require a collective approach by government, business, labour and society.

The government, led by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, has put in place more than a dozen master plans focusing on key growth and jobs-rich sectors – from sugar to poultry, from clothing to motor manufacturing.

These involve government, business and labour, and focus on removing the obstacles to growing their sectors and creating jobs.

We are seeing impressive green shoots. From the commitment by major retailers to increase locally-produced clothes on their shelves from 40% to 60% of their stock, to the 25% increase in vehicles manufactured locally, from 300 000 a year not so long ago to nearly 400 000 today.

South Africa is not immune from geopolitical instability. A year ago, these threatened billions of rands worth of agricultural, manufacturing and mineral exports to the United States under Agoa.

After decisive intervention by Cabinet, together with the leadership of labour and business, the discussion has shifted from remove South Africa from Agoa, to how the act can be strengthened to support South Africa and Africa’s economic development.

While some armchair critics thrive on writing off government’s industrial investments, today we are seeing VW investing R4 billion in its Kariega plant in Uitenhage, and Hisense investing R5bn in its Atlantis plant, which now produces 1 million TVs and 550 000 fridges for export to 13 African countries.

These position us well for the African Continental Free Trade Area, where negotiations, led by Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel, are at an advanced stage.

Some of these interventions take time. This is why we must continue providing relief to millions through the SRD Grant, aiding eight million unemployed; the Minimum Wage, raising six million workers’ wages; the Presidential Employment Stimulus, helping two million young people gain the experience needed to find permanent jobs; and, from September 1, the Two-Pot Pension Reforms that will provide relief for millions of indebted workers.

Our challenges are immense, but we are turning the corner. We have seen unemployment fall from 46% to 41% in the past year, load shedding decline dramatically, tourism numbers improve remarkably and new investments coming on stream, among many other successes.

What is key now is accelerating this momentum. This is precisely why Cosatu is engaging and mobilising workers across workplaces to come out in their numbers on May 29 to ensure we elect a progressive stable government under President Ramaphosa and the ANC.

What we cannot afford now is to disrupt this momentum, nor to experiment with populist parties who show an utter disdain for the rule of law, or right parties who promise to take workers back to the days when they had no labour rights or protections.

Solly Phetoe is the general secretary of Cosatu.