Alternative SONA reflects a nation far from the president’s fictions

The alternative Sona gathering by activists in Cape Town on Thursday. Photos by Mzi Velapi

The alternative state of the nation address by activists in Cape Town paints a picture of deepening poverty and inequalities.

An alternative state of the nation address was organised in Cape Town by activists a few hours before the president’s, to speak about deepening poverty, youth unemployment, the effects of austerity measures that have been implemented by the government, and other social ills plaguing poor communities.

Activist and trade union leader, Abeedah Adams decried deepening poverty and the cuts in the education and health budgets. “We want to be safe, we want to have decent jobs, we want houses, we want free decolonised education. We have just heard now about students from CPUT [Cape Peninsula University of Technology] who sleep on the floor because of issues with Nsfas [National Student Financial Aid Scheme]. We are saying that a better life for all but the ANC government nationally and the DA at provincial level has failed us,” she said.

Jonathan Prins from Ravensmead said that youth unemployment and drug use are some of the problems that they deal with and want the president to focus on. “Young people are unemployed and they stand on street corners not having anything to do,” he lamented.

Health activist from Sonke Gender Justice, Sikhangele Mabulu said that the budget cuts have affected the prosecution of gender-based violence cases. “Rape cases would take about five years to conclude before Covid but during Covid, most cases were freezed and all of those cases still need to be taken up so there is that backlog already. So, now with the budget cuts it’s going to get worse and justice will be delayed. The budget cuts are already affecting those who cannot afford lawyers and if the state does not have enough advocates it will mean no justice for the poor,” he said.

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Neliswa Nkwali from the Treatment Action Campaign said they would like the government to come up with a plan on how they are going to fix the “broken healthcare system”. And if it is to be by instituting the national health insurance, she said “it is important to know how the government will fund the NHI. We want it to be funded by taxing the rich.”

Youth unemployment

18-year-old, Naeema Ismail from Mannenberg said that lack of decent housing and youth unemployment are some of the issues that plague the Cape Flats township. “I would really like the government to address the issue of youth unemployment. Young people sit on street corners in my area because they do not have jobs,” she said.

Abongile Jezile, a student at Cape Town College said that youth unemployment and access to higher education should be priority issues. “Some students at the moment do not have accommodation and they sleep on the floor or outside the institutions of higher learning. Some students have not gotten their allowances and this is because there has been no response from Nsfas,” said the 22-year-old from Mannenberg.

Ramaphosa delivered the last Sona of the sixth administration to the joint sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces at the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday evening.

President’s State of the Nation Address

In his unusually long, two-hour speech, President Ramaphosa said that the Presidential Employment Stimulus has in three years created more than 1,7-million work and livelihood opportunities. He claimed that through the stimulus they have placed 1-million school assistants in 23,000 schools, “providing participants with valuable work experience while improving learning outcomes”.

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In what sounded like a campaign speech for the general elections later in the year, Cyril Ramaphosa focused on the 30 years of democracy and what the ruling party has been able to achieve. He spoke of a child born in 1994 he named Tintswalo who has benefited from the policies and interventions of the government since then. In a time of stunted growth and starvation, his fictional Tintswalo never seemed further from the truth.

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