South Africa

Parliament’s NCOP: Zuma punts achievements but keeps mum on public controversies

By Marianne Merten 9 November 2017

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant payment contract controversy is receiving attention. The Heher Commission of Inquiry report on fee-free tertiary education is being processed. As President Jacob Zuma on Thursday sidestepped pressing public interest issues in his address to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), he indirectly answered critics by calling for unity and patriotism – and an end to “bad-mouthing” South Africa, while again mocking opposition parties for having dololo (nothing) to contribute. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The nice thing about the annual presidential address in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is exactly that – a lecture, a one-way communication without those pesky questions that must be faced four times a year just up the parliamentary corridor in the National Assembly. And in the NCOP, unlike the NA, loud heckling is considered disruptive behaviour.

And so, without the blatant obviousness of political noise, it was NCOP Chairperson Thandi Modise, who stuck in a stiletto, dressed in accolades, under the theme: Deepening unity in action for inclusive growth and Africa’s Renewal – reclaiming the legacy of OR Tambo.

“Our strength has always been to talk, to argue… to find one another,” she said in a speech ranging from how strong man politics in Africa meant poverty remained in the continent to asking whether the role of Parliament was really understood and highlighting the importance of the Constitution as giving voice to South Africans.

“The Constitution is not perfect, (but) then the material conditions of the country are not perfect,” said Modise, adding later: “Unity is not about a second colonisation, but it must be about us (people). It must be about feeding and schooling our children…”

Parliament, specifically the NCOP, is doing what it could do under the circumstances through initiatives like Taking Parliament to the People and oversight weeks. “We need to be closer to the people. We need to bring people closer to government.”

It was a delivery that stood in contrast to DA NCOP delegates (the EFF was absent). Their focus was on State Capture, and the corruption scandals that have embroiled President Jacob Zuma and his administration, in speeches frequently interrupted by ANC points of order. “A criminal cannot be a president. And insolvent cannot be president,” said DA NCOP delegate Vusumzi Magwebu, as did his party colleague Jacques Julius later. The IFP contribution was more even-spoken, but similarly critical.

Zuma’s one-hour speech in the NCOP was, if not quite fluent – he seemed to get stuck not on numbers, but the isiZulu sections of the script – certainly focused on outlining his and his administration’s delivery track record. The usual items were ticked, as has become standard practice: over four million government subsidised houses alongside free basic services, basic education and health for millions of poor South Africans; billions of rands of unemployment benefits paid annually, with social grants benefiting 17 million South Africans.

The president acknowledged there were concerns over the continued payment system for social grants, but moved on swiftly. “The inter-ministerial committee on comprehensive social security “is seized with the matter and will assist the Department of Social Development to find workable solutions within the timeframes set, to ensure that the beneficiaries of social grants do not suffer”.

In a double dip, Zuma repeated that poverty was caused by apartheid, while taking a dig at critics: “We know that many among the privileged classes become angry when we speak about the reality of the apartheid legacy, as they want it to be forgotten”.

But his government was working to redress this “horrible” impact. Having recently established the presidential fiscal committee “to help us prepare for Budget 2018 and, in particular, to help us find ways of meeting our fiscal targets in a difficult economic climate, with high debt levels and lower revenue”, that committee is also working on the university fees report. Together with the inter-ministerial committee responsible for higher education funding, said Zuma, these committees are “are assisting me in processing the report of the Heher Commission. I will be making an announcement soon on the report.”

Working as teams in Cabinet, and across government, was the answer to steer South Africa in the right direction. But more was needed – unity.

“We have a responsibility to promote our country externally, and to solve whatever problems we have internally in a patriotic and responsible manner. Attacking South Africa and bad-mouthing the country when she is most vulnerable is irresponsible, especially if done by South Africans themselves.”

And that’s not what the #BlackMonday protestors did when raising the apartheid flag: “… (S)ome compatriots yearn for the past in which black people were subjugated and treated as pariahs in the land of their birth.”

Zuma ticked all the boxes: National Development Plan (NDP); Nine Point Plan; township economy; one-stop shops to cut red tape for investors and radical economic transformation, which his administration is already implementing; with, for example, black industrialist and black small business support programmes. The latter falls alongside an instruction for department to really pay small businesses within 30 days.

“We have been accused of all sorts of things by people, who refuse to face the reality that radical economic transformation is critical so that we can achieve inclusive growth,” said Zuma. “Let me emphasise that radical economic transformation is government policy and arises from the ANC, and not from outside the country, as many rumour mongers claim.”

And taking on critics was the mainstay of Zama’s closing reply to the debate focused on dissing opposition parties. “What can you do? Dololo! Nothing!”

“My problem (with opposition parties) is that they think talking about one person for the whole year, the second year, the third year… they think [this] is an important thing whilst the country is facing a lot of challenges.”

Opposition parties were “not constructive”, had “nothing to say” and were dishonest, said Zuma: “You can’t even talk of your history, you were one of the oppressors. If you were honest, you would be saying we realise our mistake, we apologise, but there is no honesty.”

And opposition parties could not learn because their focus on books and standing up in Parliament to ask questions instead of outlining their alternative policies in discussions in Parliament.

“The ANC will always win. We were giving a report about what the ANC has done (during the debate). They can’t engage it. They must come with a book… Jirre,” mocked Zuma, ending his NCOP appearance with a final verbal barb. “People are listening, and they know who to vote (for) when the time comes.”

The stage is set beyond the ANC December national elective conference, whatever its outcome, towards the 2019 elections.

As Zuma announced 2018 would be dedicated to the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, like the 2017 commemorated that of OR Tambo, next year undoubtedly will see a multitude of memorial lectures again, thinly disguised as politicking electioneering platforms.

The rollercoaster ride continues. DM

File Photo: President Jacob Zuma speaks to a crowd of supporters outside parliament after winning a vote of no confidence, on 08 August 2017. Photo: Nic Bothma/(EPA).


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