JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's frequent power cuts and ailing economy have overshadowed the ruling African National Congress party's 108th anniversary festivities.
Far from being a celebratory speech to the party faithful, President Cyril Ramaphosa's address Saturday focused on the serious problem of nation-wide power cuts.
Ramaphosa said his government is working hard to restore the state power company, Eskom, to a stable provider of electricity to industry and residences.
“We will accelerate the process of transforming Eskom into an effective and reliable electricity supplier,”said Rampaphosa. Eskom generates more than 90% of South Africa's electricity but in the past year it has had not been able to provide adequate power and has resorted to widespread power cuts across the nation.
"We understand very clearly the concerns that South Africans have about load-shedding (power cuts) that we continue to have almost on a daily basis,' said Ramaphosa.
In December Ramaphosa promised South Africans that there would be adequate power during the holiday season, but the period was marked by several cuts. Eskom's chairman resigned Friday because of the persistent power shortages. More power cuts are expected in the coming weeks as factories and businesses return to full operations and increase the demand for electricity.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attended the ANC's birthday event in Kimberley, in the drought-stricken Northern Cape province, which remains one of South Africa's most least developed areas.
The ANC has governed South Africa since 1994 at the fall of the oppressive system of white minority rule known as apartheid. Support for the party has eroded as it has not succeeded in improving the lives of the country's poor black majority.
The crippling power cuts have weakened Ramaphosa, say analysts.
“We saw a president who was on the defensive, and who did not show that he is in control of anything,” said Ralph Mathekga, a South African academic and commentator. “He is saying what everybody wants to hear and that is not always a good strategy.”
The outlook for continued power shortages brought the World Bank to reduce its 2020 economic growth forecast for South Africa from 1.5% to 0.9%.
In an effort to improve South Africa's economy, Ramaphosa said his government would step up its investment drive, launch a massive infrastructure building program, reduce the cost of doing business in South Africa and improve opportunities for young people to find employment.
He also emphasized that his government would urgently launch a controversial land redistribution policy.
“We are going to move ahead with the decision to expropriate land without compensation because land still remains the sore and the wound that our people still carry over all these years,” said Ramaphosa.
"All legislative efforts to accelerate the distribution of land to the people will be done in terms of our constitution," he said.
Ramaphosa vowed to continue his campaign against corruption. "Corruption at all levels will stop, and the stealing of money that is meant to serve the poor will be severely dealt with," he said.