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Much said about nothing and nothing said about much in Ramaphosa’s parliamentary Q&A

Much said about nothing and nothing said about much in Ramaphosa’s parliamentary Q&A
President Cyril Ramaphosa answers Members of Parliament on 2 November 2023 via a virtual platform during his last question and answer session for 2023 following the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement. (Photo: GCIS)

Some nimble side-stepping, some lecturing to the opposition, and a determinedly positive spin on South Africa’s progress – that’s how President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday wrapped up his Q&As in the House for the year.

President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t make it to the House for his last question session with MPs for 2023. After the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, he flew back to Pretoria where, on Thursday morning, he welcomed the Springboks to the Union Buildings.

Answering questions and accounting for his administration falls short of the warm, fuzzy, feel-good of meeting the history-making amaBokoBoko – even if the Presidency continues to turn a parliamentary accountability tool into yet another presidential PR moment. 

“President to update Parliament…” is the headline of the Presidency’s alerts ahead of these question sessions that must happen once a term, or four times a year, according to National Assembly Rule 140.

ANC sweetheart questions facilitate controlling the presidential optics, usually allowing Ramaphosa another opportunity to set out his administration’s achievements. After all, questions must be submitted 16 calendar days in advance.

Like Monday’s televised speech on the progress made by his administration – as illustrated by Census 2022 statistics – Ramaphosa on Thursday leveraged ANC MP Phumulo Masualle’s question to tick off points about South African Reserve Bank independence and accountability to Parliament.

ANC MP Qubudile Dyantyi’s Census 2022 question got the President enthusing on how Statistics SA was the only provider of “real, credible statistics”, without which it would have been “incredulous” for government to complete its 30-year review.

Opposition DA leader John Steenhuisen didn’t quite get as lucky with his pesky questions.

“How can you say there’s no place for corruption when they are hiding in plain sight around your Cabinet table?” asked the Opposition leader, referring to several ministers and deputy ministers named in the State Capture Commission report that recommended action be taken against them.

“I have said on numerous occasions the recommendations of the State Capture Commission are being processed… A considerable amount of progress is being made… We work on a simple and straightforward principle – we would like the recommendations to be implemented… Once charges are prepared against anyone, we are able to follow through,” said Ramaphosa without actually answering the question, but taking a dig at Steenhuisen.

“In the end, we pay little attention to the progress that is made to the reclaiming of ill-gotten gains… Rest assured, as we proceed, processes of following up on those who have committed any wrongdoing (will happen). That is the assurance I can give,” said the President.

When Steenhuisen later asked about 8,000 detectives having left the police, the presidential reply once again went tangential.

“I would like to regard what the honourable leader of the Opposition said as a suggestion: increase the number of police. I would like to insert a positive message I would have liked to hear from him – those police officers we train… some of them are trained as good detectives… It is best to leave it there than to listen to his diatribe and moaning.”

Little love is lost between the two political rivals, particularly as the 2024 election campaign trail is effectively under way. But if anyone thought the fudginess of replies was somehow personal, Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald also didn’t get a straight reply to his question on how Ramaphosa’s administration measured its success in beating gender-based violence.

Groenewald pointed out that “the figures are not right”, given Police Minister Bheki Cele’s written parliamentary reply to him that a breakdown of statistics according to age, race and gender required a thorough docket analysis as information was not always accurately captured.

“Success indeed is an objective we need to focus on. We need to be able to measure precisely how we are moving,” replied Ramaphosa, recounting how he spends time with both the minister and the SAPS national commissioner.

“Increasing the number of police, who should be on the ground, I am hopeful we are going to start seeing a great deal of progress, which will contribute to the success. We are working to measure… We should have proper records. We should have proper statistics so we can see the progress we are making.” 

That it was all over in two hours and 20 minutes, less than the allocated time, underscored the presidential Q&A’s flatness from the screens dotted across Parliament’s Good Hope Chamber.

In another world, the Springboks received a vibrant and enthusiastic reception – from Pretoria to Johannesburg and Soweto, South Africans lined the streets and filled stadiums to welcome their national heroes. DM

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