President Cyril Ramaphosa says unemployment and the poor state of South Africa’s economy are “giving him a torrid time”.
“What keeps me up at night, and seriously keeping me awake, it’s the state of our economy that keeps me awake, the state of unemployment. It is very difficult to tolerate 11 million unemployed people who are not economically involved in any activity.
“That’s enough to keep me up at night and it worries me a lot,” the president said.
Ramaphosa’s Sona last week focused largely on the measures taken by the government to facilitate faster economic growth and job creation.
He said this was because “restoring the economy is our most pressing challenge right now, and essential to making progress in almost every other area of life.
“However, our focus on the economy does not diminish the importance of the many other areas of government work.
“Many of these issues have been raised in the debate and will be addressed in more detail in upcoming budget votes and public commitments by ministers.”
While de Sona focused on growth and jobs, millions of South Africans face the immediate challenge of feeding themselves and their families.
It is estimated that food poverty affects about 5.5 million households.
Ramaphosa said that without monthly subsidies for children, the elderly and people with disabilities, many people in South Africa would face poverty.
“We know that subsidies have created an effective system of income redistribution and poverty reduction in a society with unacceptable levels of inequality.
“Given the magnitude of unemployment and the impact of the pandemic, the interventions we are undertaking to create jobs will take many years to reach all 11 million South Africans who are unemployed.”
He said these were some of the other reasons the government made a decision to: extend the R350 Covid-19 scholarship until March next year.
“Precisely to reach these people and satisfy hunger, we are extending it by another year. We are doing this in a fiscal environment that has been seriously worsened by the pandemic.
“We need to do this and make sure we don’t further weaken our macroeconomic position and that we don’t allow our debt service costs to further crowd out social spending.
“As a country, we must nevertheless fill the gap in social protection to achieve a minimum level of support for those who cannot find work.”
Ramaphosa said that finding a sustainable, affordable and effective solution should be one of the central pillars of the renewed social pact that the government is committed to building.