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SONA 2023

Spotlight on Ramaphosa as Parliament gears up for the State of the Nation Address

Spotlight on Ramaphosa as Parliament gears up for the State of the Nation Address
Former National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

Despite threats from the EFF to not allow President Cyril Ramaphosa to deliver his State of the Nation Address on Thursday, Parliament’s presiding officers say it’s all systems go.

‘On the question of disruptions, let me start off by saying that this is not a new experience in our South African context,” said Amos Masondo, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. He was responding to a question about the EFF’s threats to disrupt State of the Nation Address proceedings on Thursday. 

Addressing the first Gauteng Provincial Plenum of the Third Provincial People’s Assembly, EFF leader Julius Malema warned that the party would not allow President Ramaphosa to address the nation while there were still unanswered questions around the Phala Phala scandal.

“We are going to show him what we are made of, there in Parliament,” said Malema.

“We will never be addressed by a constitutional delinquent… we will be there and we are going to take him head-on and that is our relationship with him from now onwards.”

In response, Masondo said: “We will ensure that the rules of Parliament are applied. Our understanding is that members of Parliament are familiar with the rules themselves, and every MP has a responsibility to conduct himself or herself in a proper fashion.

“Overall, we will be firm but fair. We will do everything to ensure that Sona is a success.”

EFF disruptions

If the EFF sticks to its guns (it always does when it comes to disruptions), it will not be the first time it has held up proceedings. In 2017, the party exchanged blows with Parliament’s security officials while being ejected from the chamber after disruptions while former president Jacob Zuma was at the podium.

At the time, the party wanted Zuma held accountable, saying he had violated his oath of office through the Nkandla saga, in which the Constitutional Court had ruled against him. The Public Protector had found that Zuma needed to pay for non-security upgrades to his private home in Nkandla.

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In 2019, the EFF again threatened to disrupt proceedings if Ramaphosa failed to come clean about his son’s business dealings with the controversial Bosasa group of companies. 

Ramaphosa somehow placated the EFF,  and he addressed the nation without disruptions. 

The following year – 2020 – for the first time in a democratic South Africa, Sona was suspended as the EFF first called former president FW de Klerk a “murderer”, then demanded the dismissal of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. The party eventually walked out.

Rising public anger

This year’s Sona comes at a time when South Africa faces rising public anger amid challenges that include rolling blackouts, unemployment, a high cost of living and spiralling crime.

A total of 419 MPs, 10 members of the South African Local Government Association and 263 invited guests are expected to attend this year’s Sona, to be held at the Cape Town City Hall after the January 2022 fire that destroyed parts of the parliamentary precinct.

This is the second time Sona will be held at this venue after the arson attack, allegedly by Zandile Mafe who is still in prison facing charges of terrorism, arson, housebreaking, theft and possession of explosives.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Alleged Parliament arsonist again fails to appear in court despite apparent agreement to mental health evaluation

Parliament Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said note had been taken of planned marches and protests on Thursday.

“Peaceful protests are a feature of our constitutional democracy and a means to express views on Sona. Appropriate arrangements will be made to receive memoranda, where required.”

She said an agreement had been reached with traders in the Cape Town City Hall area to temporarily suspend operations for the day.

R8m budget

More than R8-million has been budgeted for this year’s Sona. This was the same amount budgeted for last year’s Sona, when R5.9-million was spent. Secretary to Parliament, Xolile George, explained that the budget also covered the debates that would follow and the Budget speech, as well as its subsequent debates. 

Former president Thabo Mbeki confirmed that he would be attending Sona, but no mention has been made of former president Zuma’s presence. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Help Daily Maverick draw up a dream Cabinet – with new blood to steer SA forward

More than 650 media personnel have been accredited to cover the event. DM

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