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19 February 2018 21:25 (South Africa)

SONA2017 Debate, Day 2: Catcalls, howling, ‘that lot’, parasites, vultures... Just another ‘another day’ in the House.

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne Merten
  • Politics
Photo: Speaker of South Africa Parliament Baleka Mbete reacts during a debate at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, 14 February 2017. A joint sitting of Parliament started debating the president’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) that was delivered on 09 February. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

Day 2 of the parliamentary debate on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered little new. But there was a great amount of the heckling, name-calling and party politicking that has become a hallmark of proceedings in the people’s House. But in the wake of the extreme security at SONA2017, including the deployment of armed soldiers that is now being investigated, at least parliamentarians were assured by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula that they “are not regarded as a security threat requiring the deployment of our national defence force”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele said the Post Bank was in the final stages of getting the banking licence it needs to function as a transactional institution. That’s been coming for years – the first proper steps in the application to the South African Reserve Bank were announced officially early last year – as the ANC resolved on a state bank as recently as its 2012 Mangaung national conference. “A state bank should not only be defined in terms of ownership, but in terms of the services that are delivered by the Post Bank,” the conference resolutions say.

The timing of this may prove interesting, given the controversy over the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) payment of grants from April 1, 2017. There’s long been a push for social security grant recipients to conduct their business at the Postbank. Monthly, these grants to 17-million of the poorest South Africans are worth some R10-billion.

Interesting, but not quite the “radical socio-economic transformation” the governing ANC wants SONA 2017 to be. Even if Zuma cribbed from the ANC lekgotla statement in defining such transformation as “… fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female...”

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies provided a spirited left-of-centre analysis of neoliberal international trade arrangements. But again, there was little new in his emphasis of real multilateralism and real solidarity, invoking South Africa’s policy direction adopted as far back as 2012.

But then there were the chickens and the tariffs, or the cheap products dumped by the Global North not only in South Africa to the detriment of local producers. “We need to learn the lessons from the experience of other countries like Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast that were required to open up to these imports through structural adjustment programmes. Cameroon lost 92% of its poultry industry and 110,000 rural jobs between 1999 and 2004, while 1,500 enterprises employing 15,000 workers closed shop in the Ivory Coast,” Davies said.

Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, dressed in ANC colours of black, green and yellow and speaking mostly in isiZulu, largely repeated Zuma’s SONA 2017, and cited previous ones. Perhaps the irony was lost on the minister when her speech showcased government’s slow pace of closing the gap between announcement and implementation.

In his 2015 State of Nation Address, the president announced that ‘government would set aside a minimum of 30% of appropriate categories of state procurement for purchasing from SMMEs (small, medium and micro enterprises), co-operatives as well as township and rural enterprises’,” Zulu said. “In January 2017, the new preferential procurement regulations were signed into law. They will take effect from April 2017…”

After highlighting the importance of South Africa’s by now well-established role in African peacekeeping, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out that while “planned violence” was now part of community protests, the triggers for these had not changed since 1994 – water, electricity, housing and employment opportunities.

It wasn’t much better from the opposition benches. Cope MP Deidre Carter called for the dissolution of Parliament for the election of a fresh set of MPs prepared to serve citizens. Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald raised tempers when he asked Zuma, “Why, if something goes wrong, do you blame white South Africans?”

In the absence of the EFF, which is boycotting the debate, the DA speakers reiterated the party’s SONA themes: “the lost generation” of today’s black youth facing a disproportionate burden of unemployment and difficult access to higher education, the DA’s governance track record where it governs, and the outlining of corruption and cronyism involving the ANC. The DA speeches were speckled with individual examples of black South Africans struggling in the current socio-economic climate, be they learners or small business owners.

On the point-of-order front, the DA focused on catcalls, “howling” from the ANC benches drowning out its speakers, and shouts of “sell-out”. The ANC MP in question over the sell-out shout, although pointed out, failed to stand up. Faced with this situation, all that was left for Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to do was refer the matter for a ruling at a later stage. But Zulu was ordered out of order when referring to the opposition as “that lot”.

The ANC points of order were more often than not ruled not points of order, but political address – a point of debate, in parliamentary lingo. Rules require political statements to be tolerated, even if disliked.

DA speakers were repeatedly interrupted, as was Agang MP Andries Tlouamma whom the ANC wanted to be sanctioned for linking Zuma to corruption, when his speech linked the president to moral degeneration.

It unravelled from there, yet again. The ANC objected to Tlouamma’s statement, “We are governed by parasites and vultures”, which even though he withdrew, still had the ANC was back up on its feet. When the politically-connected Gupta family was mentioned in his speech, there was another ANC point of order: “The president is not empowering the Guptas. He is the leader of the country.”

Presiding officer, Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Raseriti Tau, intervened to call to order the Agang MP over his statement there was not enough perfume to wash off the stench.

I want to appeal to the Honourable Member Tlouamma not to hit the ANC so hard. The ANC can’t take it,” said United Democratic Movement MP Mncedisi Filtane. And UDM Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa also intervened in the swathe of ANC points of order, saying these were unwarranted in reaction to “innocent political statements”. DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen also stood up against what he called “vicious” harassment of the Agang MP.

As smaller political parties receive the least time, Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) MP Luthando Mbinda’s three minutes were quickly over after he told the ANC, “You have never been a revolutionary or progressive party.”

On Thursday afternoon Zuma replies to the past two days of parliamentary debate on his take of the State of the Nation. DM

Photo: Speaker of South Africa Parliament Baleka Mbete reacts during a debate at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, 14 February 2017. A joint sitting of Parliament started debating the president’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) that was delivered on 09 February. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne Merten
  • Politics

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