Cape Town – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will seek to lift the mood of a country encumbered by energy shortages and a sickly economy when he delivers his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday.
The worst electricity crisis in decades will loom large over his speech, in which he will enumerate his government’s plans for the next 12 months.
South Africans are despondent at the state of a country battered by a stagnant economy, mounting crime, dizzying unemployment rates, worsening inflation and water and electricity shortages.
The list of grievances is topped by the electricity crisis, which has forced the country’s 60 million people to endure up outages of up to 12 hours a day.
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Scheduled blackouts, known here as loadshedding, have been imposed to help the country’s creaking coal-generated power system survive in the face of overwhelming demand.
The rationing is “the biggest problem in the country,” said Muhammad Awais, 40, sitting in the dark in the corner of his cellphone repair store in Cape Town.
“It’s affecting my business a lot,” he told AFP.
But analysts caution against prospects of a quick fix.
“It’s an entire energy system that is crashing and probably impossible to solve in the short term,” said Erwin Schwella, a public affairs expert.
The president will deliver his annual speech from 7pm (1700 GMT) before legislators, judges and cabinet ministers.
The speech will take place in Cape Town city hall, as the parliament building — gutted during in an arson attack 13 months ago — is yet to be repaired.
Oppposition parties have vowed to disrupt its delivery, which is being broadcast live.
Hours before the speech, several hundred protesters from several organisations, including the ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s political allies, the South African Communist Party (SACP), picketed outside city hall in fierce heat.
Waving a South African multi-coloured flag, unemployed Noloyiso Mathupa, 39, who lives in a one-room shack with her six children, said she was fed up.
She said she had voted for the ANC all her life, “but I haven’t seen any change,” she told AFP. “I’m very disappointed.”
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Ramaphosa, 70, came into office five years ago as a reformer promising a “new dawn” after the graft- and scandal-stained tenure of former president Jacob Zuma.
But the record outages, wreaking havoc on the economy which is now expected to grow by a dismal 0.3 percent this year from 2.5 percent last year, have dented his reputation.
A government minister estimated earlier this week that the power cuts are costing the economy a billion rand ($57 million) a day.
The crisis is chipping away at Ramaphosa’s chances of securing a second term after next year’s elections.
Ann Bernstein of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, a South African think-tank’s said “sadly, the notion of the current president as a reformer is no longer credible, in fact it is a mirage.”
On a personal level, Ramaphosa also finds himself under investigation for allegedly concealing the theft of huge stashes of US banknotes at his upmarket farm.
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