South Africa’s 2023 State of the Union Speech – through the prism of Word Cloud Plus

Ray Poynter
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Ray Poynter

3 mins

On Friday, I posted an article, looking at USA President Biden’s 2023 and 2022 State of the Union speeches through the prism of Word Cloud Plus. However, the USA is not the only country to have annual State of the Union speeches. On 9th February, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa gave a state of the nation speech. This post looks at President Ramaphosa’s speech, through the same lens.

Word Cloud showing State of the Union Speech

Not surprisingly, the main theme is South Africa (along with South Africans and South African), and this theme is used to set a context and to create a sense of unity. The words ‘South Africa’ highlighted a wide range of contexts, such as “we have deep skills and expertise right here in south africa – we just need to use them” and “a South African firm obtained a licence to produce an oral vaccine for cholera for the first time here in South Africa”. The phrase ‘South Africans’ is used to make connections and often appears as ‘fellow South Africans’. The term ‘South African’ tends to refer to institutions, such as ‘the South African National Roads Agency – SANRAL – has awarded road construction contracts worth r18 billion over the last three months’.

A key theme that arises from the word cloud is the energy crisis being faced by South Africa, for example, “we are in the grip of a profound energy crisis” and “we are focusing our attention on the energy crisis right now and will address the restructuring of government in due course”. Coal-fired power stations are identified as being at the centre of the issue “we have taken steps to improve the performance of Eskom’s existing power stations so that the coal-fired power stations that provide 80% of our electricity produce the amount of electricity for which they were designed”.

One term in the word cloud that is not very common in the international political lexicon is ‘state capture’, as in ‘state capture commission’. State capture is a form of political corruption where private interests interfere with a government’s decision-making to favour those interests. State capture and the role of the Gupta family have been a hot topic in South Africa since 2017. President Ramaphosa’s comments included “we will finalise the draft public procurement bill to address weaknesses identified by the state capture commission and improve efficiency”. The comments also linked state capture to the energy crisis “We cannot undo the mistakes that were made in the past, the capacity that was not built, the damage that was done to our power plants due to a lack of maintenance, or the effects of state capture on our institutions.

There are two key similarities between the South African and USA State of the Union 2023 speeches, the first is the exclusion of global issues, and the second relates to problems with the economy. Comments in the South Africa speech included “the rising cost of living is deepening poverty and inequality” and “the employment tax incentive has been expanded to encourage businesses to hire more young people in large numbers”.

The final theme from the statement that I want to highlight relates to partnerships and collaboration. For example, “We are pleased that social partners, particularly business, has been providing support to implement the Energy Action Plan in the spirit of social compacting. Similarly, we have developed a close working partnership with both labour and community in supporting other aspects of the energy crisis response.

In summary
As in the case of the analysis of President Biden’s speeches, this analysis looks at the language being used, it does not look at issues such as the validity and veracity of the speeches. The key points being made in the speech are:

1) The energy crisis.

2) The need to work together to move South Africa forward.

3) The issue of state capture is in the past.

Try it Yourself
Word Cloud Plus is free, so why not try it yourself to kickstart your analysis? You can access President Ramaphosa’s speech by clicking here.