Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Yael Geffen said if the president had worn a toga instead of an expensive suit, he’d be a 21st-century Nero playing his fiddle as he watched Rome burn.
Geffen was referring to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address in the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday night.
In his speech, Ramaphosa sang the government’s praises for fighting state capture, improving infrastructure, resolving load-shedding, and improving the economy.
These claims drew sharp criticism from opposition parties who argued that the President was living in an alternative reality.
They highlighted that under Ramaphosa, road and rail infrastructure collapsed, load-shedding intensified, and people got poorer.
Unemployment reached all-time highs, the economy is showing virtually no growth, and the country’s finances are in a dismal state.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said none of the promises made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his last five SONA speeches have ever been kept.
“Not a single piece of pragmatic, workable legislation has been tabled at the National Assembly to realise Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’,” he said.
“The South African economy has flatlined, there are no new jobs, corruption is worse than it has ever been, crime is spiralling out of control, and millions of our children are starving to death.”
He added that embracing the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, Ramaphosa is taking a wrecking ball to the country’s public health system.
“It is driving skilled doctors and medical personnel from our country and killing South Africa’s status as a world leader in healthcare innovation,” he said.
“We can’t push the NHI through parliament when the government cannot afford to employ and place our existing graduate doctors.”
He added that all of President Ramaphosa’s populist posturing and policy proposals points to a president who is completely out of touch with ordinary South Africans.
“The reality is that none of these offerings are workable in the financial framework of a 6% budget deficit,” he said.
Ramaphosa is like Nero watching Rome burn
Yael Geffen likened Ramaphosa to a modern-day Nero in a suit, playing his fiddle as he watched Rome burn.
“Astonishingly, Ramaphosa had the gall to once again stand in front of the nation for this annual speech and repeat the mantra that boils down to ‘yay for the government’,” she said.
She slated Ramaphosa’s claim that the government is delivering more than ever before and its “fantastic plan to fix what everyone else has broken”.
“Interest rate remains at its highest point in 14 years, food inflation is out of control, electricity and fuel costs are crippling consumers, and household debt is spiralling,” Geffen said.
“Moreover, everything Ramaphosa promised to fix this year is the same critical issues he promised to address in last year’s SONA and in the one before that.”
“If the Presidency had replayed last year’s speech on 8 February this year, I don’t think anyone would have noticed.”
Geffen further took exception to Ramaphosa claiming that R1.5 trillion in “new investment commitments” had been raised through five South African Investment Conferences.
The President added that more than R500 billion of these pledged investments had already flowed into the economy.
“If you ask anyone on the street whether they’ve felt that funds boost, they’d say no,” she said, adding that the country continues to teeter on the edge of a financial meltdown.
“Financial pressure isn’t just an economic stressor. It’s a key factor in domestic violence trends and contributes to this country’s horrifically high gender-based violence statistics.”
“With policies that have placed the country in such a precarious economic position, the government has created a socio-economic crisis, with women on the losing end.”
Geffen added that in 2023, property transactions dropped by 100,000 compared to 2022. A large percentage of those sales were financially motivated.
Geffen said this year’s SONA – with its excess of promises and shortage of tangible solutions – reinforces that South Africa’s economic salvation lies in the hands of its people.
“The president was right in saying that we should remember that it’s up to us – not anyone else – to determine the future of South Africa. I say, challenge accepted.”