South African President Cyril Ramaphosa did not make many new announcements his state of the nation address on Thursday night, but he used the occasion to warn those who have dabbled in corruption that government agencies will be coming for them.
Using the momentum of the newly appointed head of the National Prosecutions Authority, Shamila Batohi, he announced the creation of a specialised unit to deal with serious corruption and associated offences.
Ramaphosa said he had agreed with Batohi for the urgent need to set up this office and would soon promulgate a proclamation that will outline the specific terms of reference.
This will send a shiver down the spine of many of his fellow ANC leaders against whom allegations have been made at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
The unit or directorate will focus on the evidence that has emerged from the Zondo commission, as well as other commissions and disciplinary enquiries.
It will identify priority cases to investigate and prosecute and will recover assets identified to be proceeds of corruption.
This unit, which is already being compared to the defunct Scorpions, will help respond to public complaints that too many public representatives and government officials who are implicated in wrongdoing are let off the hook.
It also means that many of Ramaphosa’s opponents who have defiantly held on to positions will be handled by these processes without forcing his hand to fire them.
A he spoke, opposition MPs taunted him about a R500 000 donation that his ANC campaign received from Bosasa last year, implying that he could also be found wanting by these probes.
Ramaphosa proceeded with the speech nevertheless, without acknowledging or responding to their heckling.
Ramaphosa spent a lot of time speaking about the work he had done in the last year since taking over from Jacob Zuma, who was forced to resign by the ANC.
In particular he repeatedly mentioned his investment drive, which has attracted millions of dollars in pledges but is yet to make a direct impact on the economy.
“We are on the cusp of seeing direct jobs from the initiatives,” he promised.
As expected, a plan is also being crafted for the embattled power utility Eskom.
“Eskom is in crisis and the risk it poses for South Africa are great,” Ramaphosa acknowledged.
He said bold and decisive action was necessary and some of the consequences would be painful.
Without mentioning the details, it was clear the plan would either involve major restructuring or possible job losses.
“Eskom has come up with a the nine-point plan which we support and plan to implement. Eskom will need to take urgent steps to reduce its costs.”
The president was afforded space by the Economic Freedom Fighters, which had threatened to interrupt his state of the nation address unless he gave a proper explanation for the Bosasa donation.
But he spoke uninterrupted, which was a fresh breath of air for a Parliament used to the interruptions when Zuma was speaking.
Ramaphosa also spoke about a restructured intelligence service.
He was going to re-establish the national security council in order to better coordinate intelligence and security-related functions.
This follows work done by a high-level review panel on state security agency.