What Activists Want The President’s SONA To Say

President Cyril Ramaphosa faces a tough challenge for the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA). Rolling blackouts, failures at state-owned agencies, and student protests, these are just some of the issues the SONA has to address. The Daily Vox team spoke to activists about what they want the president to prioritise in the SONA. 

Women and Gender-based Violence (GBV) 

Faatimah Laher, law student, and former Wits University SRC: Last September the President announced R1bn would be spent to combat GBV. As the SONA approaches, we hope that the president would be able to provide a detailed report on how the R1bn was spent in the fight against GBV. As student activists, we ask that funding be provided to schools and institutions of higher learning to assist in the protection of female students and prevention of GBV.

Raeesah Noor-Mohammed, founder of Artivists and intersectional activist: I want him to acknowledge the seriousness of GBV. I want him to take it seriously and not only respond when put under pressure. He has to acknowledge that South Africa is one of the worst in the world when it comes to GBV and he has to actively do something about it.

Candice Chirwa, thought leader and director of QRATE and Perils of Patriarchy: I think we’ve reached a stage of our lives where we’ve seen the statistics, the hashtags and the funerals. I think it’s time we are no longer shocked and surprised, but it’s time that we actually make a difference. We need to have strict laws in place. I think that having a presidency that only responds to the issues when forced to respond doesn’t do anything. It is time to be proactive.

With menstruation, it can’t only be a sanitary issue. It requires a holistic approach. In simple terms, we need adequate sanitation, resources, education, and awareness.

Courtney Morgan, ecofeminist currently working on climate justice research: With regard to GBV, I want action. I’d like the government to take us seriously. This country is deeply violent towards its women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Cars will not solve this issue – only action will. I want the government to clearly commit to fighting GBV and femicide and tackling it head-on. 

Mbali Zondo, EFF student command deputy secretary-general: We know that women in South Africa especially black women have suffered since apartheid and nothing has changed. There’s basically no safe place for a woman. I would like the president to come up with solutions such as better integration between the justice system and South African police services to ensure that applications that are heard in court and investigated to allow for justice to the court. As the EFF student command, we want to advocate for a database of the sexual predators which is accessible to the public. 

Climate Change:

Faatimah:  As youth, we will be left to endure the severe repercussions of climate change. We plead for a net-zero target to be put in place taking into consideration that we are the 14th highest carbon emitter in the world.

Raeesah: The SONA speech has got to address the fact that we are in a climate emergency now. There are many things that need to be tackled. We need to look at shifting to renewable energy sources instead of using coal because it is harmful and it is failing (load shedding proves it). South Africa cannot deal with it the same way that first world countries deal with it. We’ve got to approach it differently. We’ve got to get to the root of the problem.

(Noor-Mohammed’s called on the government to declare a climate emergency and has been boycotting school every Friday until the climate emergency is declared.)

Candice: It is as simple as declaring a climate change emergency. We need policies in place that secure us as a country. We can’t talk about sustainable development if we’re not taking care of the environment. 

Courtney: With regard to climate change, I would like the government to stop lying to the country. They must declare a climate emergency. I would like to see policies clearly aimed at making sure this country survives the climate crisis. The president should admit that the age of coal is over. Lastly, I want the president to act with urgency. The climate crisis is already claiming lives all around the world, and with Southern Africa heating at double the rate of the rest of the world, we should be acting now.


Faatimah: Tertiary education should not be a luxury afforded to a selected group. The aftermath of apartheid has made university entrance to many black youth impossible. January and February cannot be the toughest months for students every year. Universities are putting concessions in place but it is not nearly enough. The government needs to address the issue of historical debt and work towards free decolonised education.

Raeesah: Schools should have a syllabus that teaches real things and goes more in-depth about sexuality, climate change, and gender-based violence. I think kids, especially boys, need to be taught at a young age that they’ve got to respect each other and protect each other. Schools have to go more in-depth about climate change and start teaching about the seriousness of it. 

Candice: I think the president should not be surprised at what is occurring with the education system, especially the higher education system. Young people have shown that we have the willingness to get into school and get to the degree that we want. It’s now on the government to decide whether they can create an environment that’s conducive for us by creating jobs that can actually be productive for the economy. 

Courtney: After 26 years of democracy, it can’t be that in 2020, we are still hearing the same kinds of speeches from the government. I don’t want to hear empty promises. I want to hear concrete plans. In terms of student crises- I would like the president to admit that there is a crisis. I would like him to recognise that students are going hungry. I want him to finally address the issues of student debt and our cry every year of quality, decolonised education. 

Mbali: With education, I want to start with early childhood development. The education system is characterised by inequalities especially for children from poor black families. We want the president to mainly focus on those things such as infrastructure and creating a conducive learning environment. The government must help Grade 12 learners with applications to university. Accommodation for institutions of higher learning is a problem every year. We want to land expropriation without compensation so that we can see the refurbishment of abandoned buildings for accommodation. 

The SONA will take place Thursday, February 13.

These voxes have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Featured image via Flickr