“We need to set the tone for the next five years in this debate,” new ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina warned at the outset of the National Assembly debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA.
If that is indeed the case, the relatively soft landing initially offered to Ramaphosa by opposition parties at the tail-end of the fifth Parliament looks to be over.
Leaders of opposition parties took the podium in turn to berate the president’s address for delivering a rose-tinted vision of a high-tech society while South Africa remains mired in far more fundamental challenges.
Perhaps most cuttingly, EFF leader Julius Malema posed Ramaphosa the rhetorical question: “What did Madiba see in you that we can’t see?”
Ramaphosa came in for criticism from the EFF for a perceived “retreat” on the issue of land expropriation without compensation: a concept which did not receive a single mention in the President’s address.
The Public Protector’s alleged new investigation into Ramaphosa’s potential money-laundering ahead of the 2019 general elections should be taken seriously, said Malema.
“We will not win the fight against corruption if the President is involved in allegations of money-laundering,” Malema said, warning that the EFF would not hesitate to begin impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa if he was shown to be a “constitutional delinquent”.
On the note of the Public Protector – in whose defence the EFF has been vocal of late – Malema accused Ramaphosa of having shot himself in the foot by not complying with Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s recommendations for remedial action against Public Works Minister Pravin Gordhan.
As a result of this precedent, suggested Malema, every time a Cabinet member is found guilty of misconduct by a Public Protector report they will be able to challenge its findings in court.
“You can’t even remove a deputy minister from now on,” Malema said.
Malema’s concluding message to Ramaphosa was an exhortation to the President to seize his power and get busy implementing, rather than just dreaming.
“Stop dreaming, take a decision, wake up!” finished Malema.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane expressed a similar perspective, albeit in a more diplomatic tone.
Citing one of the more contentious aspects of Ramaphosa’s futuristic dream for South Africa, Maimane proposed: “Instead of building a new bullet train, let’s rather fix the trains we have.”
Instead of building new “smart cities”, as Ramaphosa also pledged, Maimane recommended upgrading existing cities.
Maimane proposed seven reforms which he suggested Ramaphosa should be focusing on instead. These amounted to a re-hashing of the DA’s election manifesto – including Maimane’s electoral catchphrase “A job in every home” – for which the DA leader was subsequently rebuked by Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu.
“He seems to have forgotten that the DA’s priorities and manifesto were rejected by the people of this country,” remarked Mthembu dryly, who went on to term Ramaphosa a “great visionary”.
Mthembu received partial agreement from Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald, who conceded: “I do believe that real political leaders must have dreams.”
But Groenewald proceeded to harangue Ramaphosa for affirmative action, the perceived marginalising of Afrikaans in education, the President’s unwillingness to confront the unions, and farm murders.
“Why is it so difficult to publicly condemn farm murders in South Africa?” asked Groenewald. “I will invite you to a funeral of a farm murder; you invite me to any funeral you wish.”
For IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, one question was most pressing amid Ramaphosa’s claims of clean governance after the years of State Capture.
“Where are the arrests?” demanded Buthelezi. DM
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