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SONA 2023

Armed police in the House set the stage for Ramaphosa declaring a National State of Disaster

Armed police in the House set the stage for Ramaphosa declaring a National State of Disaster
Parliamentary security and EFF MPs scuffle in the disrupted proceedings at the State of the Nation Address held at the City Hall in Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Talking of hope and action, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a National State of Disaster over rolling blackouts, with an electricity minister also on the cards. This unfolded after an unprecedented call for armed security forces to come into the House.

The entrance of armed security forces into the House on Thursday when President Cyril Ramaphosa was initially prevented from giving his State of the Nation Address (Sona) was the climax of the EFF’s “points of order” disruptions. And two versions exist.

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EFF MPs disrupt proceedings at the State of the Nation Address held at the City Hall in Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The one in which National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she saw a threat and thus called in the armed security forces, and the one DA leader John Steenhuisen raised an issue with, of armed police entering the House before being called, in line with the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa before delivering the State of the Nation Address in the City Hall, Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan )

“They [the security forces] entered before you invited them… It is an important point for you to protect this House… [It is important] to prevent the intimidation of MPs by the security services of the executive… We will not let this go,” Steenhuisen said in a point of privilege. Not everyone in the opposition agreed; governing ANC MPs heckled.

But then, some 45 minutes late, it was finally the turn of President Cyril Ramaphosa to deliver the Sona, aimed at showing his administration at work.

National State of Disaster

Announcing a National State of Disaster on electricity and energy, Ramaphosa argued: “In a time of crisis, we need a single point of command and a single line of march. Just as we address the cause of the crisis, we also need to address its impact.”

Central to this was “reducing the severity” of power rationing with a view to ending it, as his administration acknowledged the widespread damaging impact of rolling power outages that have hit South Africa every day in 2023, and for more than 200 days in 2022.

Also crucial to addressing the crisis, he said, was an electricity minister, who would “work day and night” to resolve the electricity crisis. 

“The minister will focus full-time and work with the Eskom board and management on ending load shedding and ensuring that the energy action plan is implemented without delay.”

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No names were mentioned. But Ramaphosa emphasised the public enterprises minister would stay put, overseeing power utility Eskom’s unbundling, the Just Energy Transition and, generally, be the pivot between the state-owned entity, its board and the government.

According to the President, a National State of Disaster — this was a decision of the ANC’s National Executive Committee lekgotla last month — would allow the government to “provide practical measures that we need to take to support businesses in the food production, storage and retail supply chain, including for the roll-out of generators, solar panels and uninterrupted power supply.”

Where technically possible, the government could exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from rotational power cuts. And it would allow the limiting of regulatory requirements to speed up adding new energy to the grid. 

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President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the State of the Nation Address in the City Hall, Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“The Auditor-General will be brought in to ensure continuous monitoring of expenditure, in order to guard against any abuses of the funds needed to attend to this disaster,” said Ramaphosa in a clear reference to staving off tender and procurement corruption similar to that which emerged in the two-year Covid-19 State of Disaster and lockdown.

‘An existential threat’

“Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. The energy crisis is an existential threat to our economy and social fabric. We must spare no effort, and we must allow no delay, in implementing these measures.”

It was a Sona focused on the economy, from electricity to rail, roads and ports. And one in which Ramaphosa discussed specifics, including reshaping the Covid-19 bounce-back scheme for small businesses into one to shield them from the rotational power cuts, and the 10,000 recruits now digitising Home Affairs records.

Much of what was outlined was a continuation of what Ramaphosa’s administration had been grappling with — alongside some important nods to the country’s deepening poverty and inequality, such as the continuation of the monthly R350 “Covid-19 grant”.

Or on rail transport, where the idea of third-party, or private sector, access has been in the government in-tray for a while.

“We are working across government to develop a Transnet roadmap that will translate our policy commitments into reality, including the restructuring of Transnet Freight Rail to create a separate infrastructure manager for the rail network by October 2023,” said Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the State of the Nation Address in City Hall, Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“Transnet and private sector companies will conclude partnerships at the Durban and Ngqura container terminals, to enable new investment in our ports and improve their efficiency.”

Ramaphosa talked about anti-corruption — including establishing the Investigative Directorate as a permanent division in the prosecuting services — more police, and a government rejig.

The Presidency and National Treasury would, over the next three years, jointly look into rationalising government departments, entities and programmes. Meanwhile, a state-owned SOEs Holdings Company structure and legislation would be established to better manage these often troubled entities. 

‘Better late than never

Ramaphosa also talked about roads and dams. That included the Mzimvubu Water Project, several decades after its first planning and nine years after the sod turning.

“Better late than never,” retorted Ramaphosa to heckles, adding that this was not necessarily his administration’s motto. “I want us [the government] to be agile, move faster…”

While the 2022 Sona pledge of a social compact within 100 days was missed because “a number of new circumstances emerged that made it difficult”, Ramaphosa also turned that into an upbeat, pointing to a series of master plans in areas such as clothing, poultry and sugar, as well as other agreements for joint action.

“A number of other compacts have been concluded amongst social partners. We see the commitment of all social partners in the compacts that have been forged to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and undertake the largest vaccination programme in our history.”

Returning to the theme of the essential character of South Africa and South Africans — hope and resilience — Ramaphosa concluded by calling on everyone to work together on the back of the actions he outlined in this 2023 Sona.

“I want to call on everyone to do what they can,” said Ramaphosa. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Since when are police allowed to cover their faces?

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    So now the powerships can sail in and join rhe looters-for 20 years nogal!!!!!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Don’t be fooled by the apparent acrimony between the ANC and the EFF – in my opinion it was staged to lead the taxpayer into believing all is well on the political stage – how come the police were ready and waiting before being called in! A pantomime designed to lull the taxpayer into a false sense of security!

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Yet these two sets of clowns want to co operate at local level to “improve service delivery” what a joke

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    We can just hope that John Steenhuisen’s court case is successful.

  • Ian Callender-Easby says:

    The circus 🤡 must go on… (it ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings)

  • Dou Pienaar says:

    I am again reminded. ‘When you send a clown to the castle he does not become a king, the castle becomes a circus’.

  • blah blah blah fish paste. Why would any of this happen? Past experience dictates but you also need leaders that are intelligent and sufficiently skilled to undertake these ‘plans’. I’m yet to see evidence of this. I think it’s a ruse to get to 2024. Once they’ve won again (ha ha, not this time) they will breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their R8000 a bottle whisky. (with Fanta)

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