By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) -South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday his country needed fundamental change to revive economic growth, by tackling corruption and the endemic poverty, inequality and unemployment deepened by chronic power cuts and COVID-19.
Addressing the many troubles that have plagued Africa’s most industrialised nation in the past decade in his State of the Nation speech, Ramaphosa singled out its unreliable power supply as one of the biggest threats to long-term prosperity.
The president said there was a need to address the immediate crisis but also create conditions for sustained growth, via a programme of infrastructure works, increased local production and job-creation – as well as developing the country’s fledgling cannabis industry.
“The present situation …is unacceptable,” he said, promising to prioritise improving power generation. “Fundamental (economic) reforms are needed.”
To boost growth, the president said South Africa will start auctioning its high frequency digital spectrum within a month, seen as critical for cheaper data costs.
He also promised to tackle the corruption that blossomed under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and left deep holes in the finances of public companies, including state-owned power utility Eskom.
“The fight against corruption will take on a new intensity,” he said.
HELPING THE POOREST
Bereft of the jobs needed to lift millions out of poverty, South Africa has struggled to reverse the economic inequities that are the main legacy of white minority rule.
A scheme for Black empowerment has created some wealthy businessmen, but excluded the poor majority from post-apartheid prosperity – a divide thought to have been further entrenched by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa said he would extend a social grant introduced soon after the pandemic started, which will help keep 10 million people – around 15 percent of the population – from hunger.
He left the door open to it becoming something more permanent, but cautioned that “any future support must pass the test of affordability.”
Anger over persistent poverty boiled over into riots last July.
The violence was triggered by former president Zuma’s arrest for defying a court order to appear at a corruption inquiry, but soon mushroomed into arson and looting in which more than 300 people died.
On Monday, a report Ramaphosa commissioned into the riots concluded that the police and intelligence services had failed to anticipate and disrupt them.
Ramaphosa promised to address the weaknesses.
He also said the domestic cannabis industry had the potential to create 130,000 jobs and increase export revenues.
“We are streamlining the regulatory process so that hemp and cannabis can thrive as it does in other countries,” he said.
South Africa legalized marijuana for personal use in 2018 and the following year it became legal to sell cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant.
Last year, the government unveiled a plan for the cultivation of hemp and marijuana, with applications ranging from medicine and food to recreational use.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning, Emma Rumney and Wendell RoelfWriting by Tim CocksEditing by James Macharia Chege and)