South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday using it as a platform to list the ruling African National Congress’ achievements over the past 30 years.
The party, which has been in power since the first post-apartheid democratic elections in 1994, is heading into its most challenging campaign as the country prepares to vote later this year.
Several polls have suggested that the ANC could lose its majority for the first time, forcing it to go into a coalition to stay in power in what would be a landmark moment for South African politics.
In his nearly two-hour address, Ramaphosa insisted the party was making progress in addressing the country’s problems including record unemployment, an ongoing electricity crisis, and corruption allegations.
South Africa’s previous president Jacob Zuma, who led the ANC from 2009-2018, is accused of overseeing a period of rampant corruption which became known as “state capture”, when state-owned entities were stripped bare by graft and mismanagement.
“One of the overriding challenges this administration had to deal with when it took office was state capture and corruption. Our first priority was to put a decisive stop to state capture, to dismantle the criminal networks within the state and to ensure that perpetrators face justice,” said Ramaphosa.
His statement was met with jeers from some lawmakers as he survived his own corruption scandal in 2022, after reports of a theft of more than $500,000 in cash, that was hidden in a piece of furniture in a ranch he owns, were made public.
Ramaphosa was cleared of wrongdoing despite allegations of money laundering and tax evasion by political opponents.
The problems facing the country, including corruption, the power shortages, and a logistics crisis at its rail and port operator, has eroded the party’s reputation and its support among South Africans.
Ramaphosa acknowledged the problems which have hampered businesses and slowed the country’s economy, but presented parliamentarians with few new solutions.
In his speech, he said that while the number of jobs being created was going up, unemployment was still a major problem.
“Our unemployment rate is the highest it has ever been. Even as employment is growing, more people are entering the job market each year than jobs are being created,” he said.
South Africa’s official unemployment rate is more than 30 per cent, the highest in the world, and this increases to 60 per cent for young people under the age of 25.
While Ramaphosa conceded Africa's most developed economy is facing serious challenges, he maintained throughout his address that the country was in a better state than it was 30 years ago.
Opposition parties and many commentators have described the State of the Nation address as pure electioneering and a repeat of promises made in previous years.
The date for the elections, which must happen between May and August, are due to be announced later this month.