Ramaphosa wants a ‘digital economy’ – but we don’t even have stable electricity: unions

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has slammed president Cyril Ramaphosa for being ‘out of touch’ with the realities facing South Africans and failing to focus on the correct growth principles for the country.

Saftu – which comprises 21 affiliated trade unions and represents 800,000 workers in industries across the country – said that Ramaphosa’s push for a more digital-focused economy was out of line with current realities.

“Equality of opportunity is everyone’s central objective in the new South Africa, but with Eskom engaged in load reduction in poor municipalities and townships where arrears are high, electricity disconnections automatically limit our children’s ability to learn online or acquire fourth industrial revolution skills,” it said.

“In the larger scheme of things, president Ramaphosa yet again demonstrates how completely out of touch he is with the realities facing our people. He conveniently forgets that the country was already in a recession before we were hit by the coronavirus in March 2020.

“In fact, the economy has been in and out of recession for years under the ANC government, and especially under his leadership both as deputy president from 2014, and president the last three years.”

Jobs problem 

Saftu also criticised Ramaphosa and the government for failing to address the country’s high level of unemployment even before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

“The president seems to have developed amnesia when it comes to the global economy. He does not remember that a million workers lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009 when the impact of the world capitalist crisis reached our shores.

“Those jobs have not been replaced. In 2015, as the end of the commodity super-cycle hit South African exports, yet again we suffered, this time a damaging mining industry downturn which rippled through the rest of the economy, due to our continued over-reliance on exporting raw, unprocessed minerals.”

Saftu said that before that crash, South Africa hit its maximum absorption rate, where 45% of the working-age population could find what Stats SA terms ’employment’.

“Then in 2020, the economy lost another 1.5 million jobs, which Ramaphosa neglects to mention in his misleading letter,” Saftu said.

“So the absorption rate fell to 36% and, notwithstanding the recovery, it only bounced back to 38% at the end of 2020.”

The federation added that youth unemployment under Ramaphosa’s leadership has increased to 63%, and that counting people who have given up looking for work, a staggering 42% of the South African population is unemployed.

“A conscious president of a country facing this crisis in the first 27 years of democracy should have resigned in humiliation.

“But our current president clearly resides on another planet and dares not glance at this society as it implodes with desperation and frustration. Because he is steering the South African ship from a long distance away, he will not allow people with ideas and the political will to take us in a different direction.”

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Ramaphosa wants a ‘digital economy’ – but we don’t even have stable electricity: unions