6 State of the Nation Addresses:
2014 - 2018
A new dawn, or more of the same? A comparison of Cyril Ramphosa’s speech with Jacob Zuma’s
Laura Grant & Alastair Otter

President Cyril Ramaphosa dedicated a substantial chunk of his first State of the Nation Address in Parliament on February 16 2018, to persuading South Africans to put “the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment” behind them. “A new dawn is upon us,” he said.

What does that mean? Working on the assumption that the number of words the president devotes to a topic is an indication of the level of importance he places on that topic, Passmark looked at the past six State of the Nation addresses and visualised the 12 topics that got the most airtime. Education, we are happy to report, has been in the top 12 in all but one year, 2016, which was, ironically, just after the #FeesMustFall protests started on campuses around the country.

Do the comparison

We also compared Cyril Ramaphosa's top 12 topics with the number of words Jacob Zuma dedicated to those same topics in his SONA speeches. To see that comparison, click the 'compare' button below.

February 2018: Cyril Ramaphosa
Not surprisingly, given the recent credit rating downgrades, and years of slow growth, the economy features strongly, along with jobs and unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. Social cohesion/nation building was right up there too because the new president has to win back the trust of a disillusioned electorate bruised by a constant barrage of “state capture” headlines, which also explains why corruption was one of the top-five topics. We ranked education at number five, with the free higher education and training for the poor and working class policy, which comes into effect this year, dominating the topic. The president also said the ASIDI initiative to build modern facilities at rural and underprivileged schools will be completed by the end of the next financial year.
February 2017: Jacob Zuma
Education featured strongly in President Zuma’s last SONA, dominated by his response to the #FeesMustFall protests at tertiary education institutions. But the topic that got most of the president’s attention was radical economic transformation/black economic empowerment.
February 2016: Jacob Zuma
The economy, once again was centre stage, followed by an acknowledgement of growing concerns over the performance of state-owned enterprises, such as Eskom, the electricity utility. Also in the top three topics was an undertaking to “spend public funds wisely and cut wasteful expenditure”. Less than 100 words were spoken on the subject of education, which ranked 17th on our word-count scale, all of it on cost of higher education.
February 2015: Jacob Zuma
Education ranked eighth this year, with the president talking mostly about the government’s ASIDI school infrastructure initiative. But the country’s electricity shortage, described by the president as “an impediment to economic growth and is a major inconvenience to everyone in the country” and financial problems at state electricity utility Eskom, rose to the top spot this year.
June 2014: Jacob Zuma
This was President Zuma’s first SONA after the 2014 national elections. He had a lot to say about the performance of local government, outlining his action plan to help municipalities overcome their challenges, many of which had sparked sometimes violent protests. Electricity challenges ranked second. Education made it into the top 12, with Zuma saying the aim was to have 250,000 grade 12 getting university entrance passes by 2019.
February 2014: Jacob Zuma
Besides the state of the economy, violent protests featured prominently. “The dominant narrative in the case of the protests in South Africa has been to attribute them to alleged failures of government. However the protests are not simply the result of ‘failures’ of government but also of the success in delivering basic services,” the president told the nation. Education was ranked fourth: it was a celebration of the government’s achievements in increasing the number of children enrolled in schools, particularly no-fee schools, as well as the school nutrition programme.
Data collection & analysis: Laura Grant
Visualisation: Alastair Otter
You can view the methodology we used here.
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A Media Hack Collective project
1 March 2018