South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his annual address to the nation on Thursday, facing mounting pressure over the country’s energy crisis.
His speech to the National Assembly will be scrutinised for how he plans to tackle power cuts that since mid-2022 have lasted for up to 12 hours each day.
The record outages have piled misery on a population of 60 million already battling high unemployment, poverty, rampant crime and rising cost of living.
The state-of-the-nation address is traditionally held in pomp at the parliament building in Cape Town, where a red carpet is laid out for lawmakers and guests come dressed in glitzy designer outfits.
A military parade staged by the presidential guard signals Ramaphosa’s arrival.
But this year, for a second consecutive year, Ramaphosa will deliver his speech from the Cape Town City Hall, as the parliament building — gutted during in an arson attack 13 months ago — is still being rebuilt.
At a time of austerity, the ceremony will cost taxpayers an estimated eight million rand, or nearly half a million dollars.
Calls have been swirling on social media networks and talk radio for a low-key event to show solidarity with the real state of the nation and its people.
South Africans have vented their anger at Ramaphosa’s government over the rolling outages.
Some have taken to the streets, others to the law courts, and more protests are expected on Thursday.
The crisis is braking growth just as South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, is hoping to recover after the Covid pandemic.
Growth is expected to be an anaemic 0.3 percent in 2023, down from 2.5 percent last year.
“The energy crisis could short-circuit all plans for economic recovery and threaten social stability in the process,” Dieter von Fintel, an economist at the Stellenbosch University, warned.
– ‘Cash-under-cushions’ –
One option being mulled by the government is to declare a state of disaster, a move that would legally free up additional resources to tackle the crisis.
The idea is the brainchild of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
The speech will also be broadcast live starting at 7pm (1700 GMT) but opposition parties have vowed to disrupt it over a scandal hanging over the president.
Ramaphosa, 70, came into office in 2018 promising a “new dawn” after the scandal-rocked tenure of former president Jacob Zuma.
But he now finds himself under investigation for allegedly concealing huge stashes of US banknotes from his Phala Phala game farm.
The money, hidden under cushions, was stolen by burglars.
Ramaphosa allegedly arranged for the burglars to be kidnapped and bribed into silence when he should have reported the robbery to police.
“We will never be addressed by a constitutional delinquent,” Julius Malema, firebrand leader of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party, has declared.