SONA Debate descends into crude electioneering

By Marianne Merten 12 February 2019

EFF’s Julius Malema during the debate on land expropriation without compensation at the National Assembly on December 04, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

If Tuesday’s parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of four days ago showed anything, it was that the 8 May election day is front of mind. In a rambunctious almost six-hour affair, with every politician on either side of the House claiming they had the right plan for the country, there was no doubt the chase for voters’ Xes on the ballots has kicked into high gear.

Vote ANC”, “Vote DA”, “Vote EFF”.

That’s how blunt and obvious it got at times in the joint sitting in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

After ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu ended his speech with “Let’s Grow South Africa together. Vote ANC on the 8th of May 2019”, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was a tad more diplomatic, but no less confident. “We are going to win the elections because we are very honest. We will tell our people what we have achieved; we will tell our people where we have gone wrong,” she said amid loud heckles from the opposition benches. From the EFF MPs came the rotating hand signals that soccer coaches use to indicate a substitution.

DA national leader Mmusi Maimane, who argued that President Cyril Ramaphosa could not absolve himself from his role as deputy to former president Jacob Zuma in that scandal-ridden administration, said: “May the 8th, watch this space!” And EFF leader Julius Malema, after punting young people and a Cabinet that would deliver land and jobs, concluded: “South Africa, 8 May, Vote EFF!”

And so it went on the first of two days of debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered last Thursday with a series of announcements to fix Eskom – only to be embarrassed by Stage 4 load shedding not seen in some four years – a new prosecution directorate for State Capture and serious corruption and boosts in investment for jobs and inclusive economic growth.

On Tuesday, it was the opposition’s turn to make their pitch in the opening day of the parliamentary SONA debate that is traditionally reserved for the big hitters, from ministers, party leaders to chief whips and committee chairpersons. But in some ways, the debate was a repeat of what’s been said before as the strategy and tactics of political parties going into elections crystallised further – whether the DA’s “where we govern, we govern best” mantra or the EFF’s identity politics that fingers Ramaphosa as a lackey of the Oppenheimers.

And so Maimane hauled out the Ramaphosa-is-just-another-driver-of-the-old-ANC-broken-bus analogy he had presented earlier in February at his alternate SONA. And then there was a dose of the insider-outsider analogy he’s proffered for several years now with the DA breaking down the walls to ensure it wasn’t just the politically connected that benefited from tenders and opportunities. And much of his speech argued Ramaphosa’s complicity as Zuma’s deputy.

“… (Y)ou were content to just watch and wait as your party robbed us blind. Under your ANC, SONA stands for ‘State of No Action’,” said Maimane, adding later in reference to the DA’s eight motions of no confidence: “You didn’t arrive on the scene a year ago. Eight times you had the opportunity to save our country from Jacob Zuma, and eight times you voted to protect Jacob Zuma. Your record will always reflect 100 percent behind Zuma – a man you described as ‘a very strong president’.”

There may well be big promises, and commissions, task teams, and inquiries, but it was the DA that delivered, be it in Johannesburg or Tshwane or the Western Cape. Curiously, Cape Town, where the DA fought a bruising battle to get rid of its mayor Patricia de Lille, was mentioned in a reference that “three-quarters of a million more tourists visited Cape Town”.

Malema picked up trade unions’ battle cry against Eskom restructuring, pledging that his party would join workers on the streets in protest against this privatisation that would make Ramaphosa “the enemy of the workers” as he was pursuing privatisation as “a remedy that benefits his friends and family…”

No one should be surprised at this Eskom move, according to Malema, who described Ramaphosa as “a businessman, who took leave to come to irritate us here”, and who was beholden to white business. Or as he also put it: “Your (Ramaphosa’s) refusal to acknowledge the existence of white monopoly capital is because you are a product of greedy capitalists. If it was not because of the Oppenheimers, you would not be where you are today…”

And Malema called the president out on land expropriation without compensation, saying because of his relationship with the Oppenheimers he was ditching his own governing ANC’s line.

President, you must be honest; you never believed in the expropriation of land without compensation… Your leadership will fail to do so because you are not convinced about the need to take back the land from colonial settlers, the majority of whom are your friends and funders.”

The ANC December 2017 Nasrec resolution that proposed compensationless expropriation – a parliamentary process in December 2018 resolved to amend the Constitution to expressly allow for compensationless expropriation and the ad hoc committee to drive this was formalised on Tuesday – is called “accelerated land reform” in the ANC manifesto, and in Ramaphosa’s SONA last Thursday.

You want to sound white and do things white because you don’t believe in the total liberation of African children,” said Malema, saying he would never believe Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption stance as long as Nomvula Mokonyane still remained as minister in his Cabinet, given the testimony before the Zondo State Capture Commission and her record at Water and Sanitation that saw the department end up R6-billion in the red.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi did the elder statesman thing. And this time around he did so without getting sidetracked in personal reminiscing of private engagements with ANC politicians who backtracked on pledges.

I remember the early debates of our democracy on the President’s State of the Nation Address. We in the opposition warned time and again that summits and talk-shops were not enough. What South Africa needed was concrete action,” said Buthelezi, adding it was a no-brainer that more jobs and more investment were needed.

If we’re really starting over, or picking up from where we left off 10 years ago, let’s heed the warning that was ignored back then. Talk is just talk. Show us through action.”

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa played it straight up and down, just four days ahead of his party’s 2019 election manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth, calling for a massive investment in socio-economic infrastructure.

Many projects announced and started by this government and (which) never get finished are leaving the people poor and without recourse,” said Holomisa, citing an incomplete water project at Mthatha Dam, unfinished RDP houses in Burgersfort and a crumbling health sector.

The current load shedding by Eskom is contrary to the pronouncement and commitments made by the government recently. We were told that load shedding is a thing of the past.”

But it was DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen who forthrightly addressed Ramaphosa’s political dilemma.

Your critics may be sitting here (in opposition benches), but your enemies are sitting behind you… Our message to you is to watch your back!”

As in the past, the ANC speakers in the SONA debate were allocated a specific topic canvassed in the presidential address. The difference? The tone was no longer obsequious, with plenty of “as president Zuma said…” and the attitude more a roll-up-sleeves and get to work.

So Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies talked of the investment that’s already arrived in South Africa, not just pledges, and concrete steps his department is taking to expand various industrial and manufacturing programmes.

And Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan talked of steps to ensure Eskom would not falter, saying the current power troubles arose because the new coal power stations Medupi and Kusile, overdue and over budget, “were badly designed and badly constructed and are not performing at optimal level”. And Gordhan announced an independent audit of power stations “so we can put Eskom back on track and can assure South Africans we have the energy we require”.

All “get to work and make it work” stuff. But there is an election in 84 days. And the debate on the presidential SONA is an opportune electioneering platform not to be missed. It remains to be seen whether it’s brickbats and bouquets when Ramaphosa responds to the parliamentary debate on Valentine’s Day. It’s all about the 2019 poll. DM


In other news...

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