South Africa

SONA 2024 DEBATE ANALYSIS

A country divided – electioneering ratchets up in the House

A country divided – electioneering ratchets up in the House
Illustrative image | Lindiwe Zulu; John Steenhuisen; MPs; VF Hlabisa; Sona 2024 Debate Day 1. (Photos: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

As politicians on Tuesday fought 2024 election battles by proxy through democracy’s child, Tintswalo, whom President Cyril Ramaphosa used to showcase the ANC’s achievements – government launched a PR campaign, calling for stories and short videos on ‘why you are #Tintswalo’.

According to the political grapevine, Tintswalo almost didn’t make it into President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) last Thursday as his speechwriters were at odds. But she did, and, like Thandi of the 2012 National Development Plan – South Africa’s blueprint to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030 – Tintswalo is now shorthand for those in the governing party to illustrate the democratic dividend. 

As Tuesday’s Sona debate got under way, government, in its official account on X, called for #Tintswalo stories and videos. With 175,000 views logged within four hours, most responses included content that seemed not particularly optimistic. 

But in this election-charged moment of 30 years into constitutional democracy, officialdom seized the Tintswalo moment amid a slew of ministerial handovers, from bikes to houses, IDs and more. 

The across-government coordinated spin continued in the House with most, if not all, ANC speakers in the parliamentary debate invoking the presidential account of Tintswalo’s democratic benefits.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu urged South Africans to “reach out to the ANC government, whose sole purpose of existence is to change you into a better Tintswalo. You are worthy, you are capable and you are deserving of a better future”.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla told the debate “… many Tintswalos have come forward to say what the democratic state has done for them to open up opportunities for a better life. Shame to those who want to rubbish these lived experiences of many South Africans”.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, calling himself “Uncle Sputla”, said Tintswalo was an “eloquent metaphor” for the lived experience of so many South Africans, adding that he has heard her anger and cries. 

“To you, Tintswalo, I say, the end of load shedding is indeed in sight. The future is indeed bright.”

Tintswalo, inversed

The opposition had a very different view of Ramaphosa’s Tintswalo analogy of 30 years of the ANC government’s achievements, in what was essentially a stump speech for the ANC in last Thursday’s Sona.

DA leader John Steenhuisen recounted the alternative story of Tintswalo, who may have gained an education and a job, but lost that work due to the rotational power cuts, lost her home and also lost her father who was murdered.

“Tintswalo cannot survive in the past. She must survive in the SA that is, not the SA that was in 1994,” he said, adding that Tintswalo was done waiting for the ANC to change and would not use her vote differently.

“When the ANC says that 2024 is the year we must defend our freedom, they are right. We must defend our freedom – from the ANC.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Opposition bays for blood in upcoming elections after Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation stump of a speech

The DA would “rescue South Africa” with a 100-day plan to end load shedding and cadre deployment, halve violent crime and grow the economy while creating jobs and protecting social grants

Steenhuisen tackled Ramaphosa on recent regime change commentary alleging foreign agents’ influence, expressly made in the ANC’s January 8 Statement, but significantly more nuanced in his Sona.

“What is coming your way is not regime change by foreign actors… it’s democratic change by the people of South Africa,” said the DA leader.

“Voting out a failed government is not a threat to democracy, it is the vindication of democracy…”

For IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa also, Tintswalo is disillusioned.

“… (O)ur people’s resilience is gone. Our people live with the instinctive understanding that what is being done to them by government is wrong. We have felt this before. My generation grew up with a government that showed nothing but contempt… We entered democracy full of hope for change…” That hadn’t materialised.

Hlabisa turned to emphasise the role of the IFP under its late leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and others, in government.

“This is where the lie is exposed – you cannot point to 1994 as [a] measure [of] how far we have come under an ANC government, because the ANC did not govern this country alone between 1994 and 2004. The strong and stable democracy… was built by the government of national unity, in which the IFP served.”

After 2004, governance began to falter, said Hlabisa, citing unemployment, rotational power cuts and, closer to KwaZulu-Natal, the failure of Ithala Bank.

“We did it in 1994. And the IFP is ready to do it in 2024. We will do it with our votes,” said Hlabisa.

The EFF stayed away from the debate as it did last Thursday’s Sona. That National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula called the EFF to the podium was a show – no speaking minutes were allocated to the EFF on the official speakers’ list.

Such tactics underscore the political theatre that is Sona, particularly in an election year, and the superficiality of ticking protocol boxes in a show of decorum.

‘Siyabuya!’

All ANC speakers addressed Ramaphosa as “Mr President”, looking up from their speeches in his direction. Having mentioned one or other of Tintswalo’s democratic benefits, ministers segued into their portfolios, as did Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi, who underscored how formal housing tripled from 5.2 million in 1996 to 15.8 million in 2022. 

It was a tactic to counter opposition calls for South Africans to vote out the ANC. The governing party remained unshaken.  

“Mr President, the youth of the country have long demanded free data for all. We know it will be implemented when we come back… Siyabuya (we are coming back)!” said ANC MP Collen Malatji and party youth league leader.

ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina described Ramaphosa’s Sona as an “honest, balanced reflection” with “inspiring” progress and took a dig at the opposition in general and the DA in particular. 

South Africans should not “side with those who benefited from the historical legacy of the privileged who seek to block transformation at every turn as they seek to preserve their wealth, their properties and positions at the expense of the majority,” she said.

Cooperative Governance Minister Thembi Nkadimeng didn’t mince her words, “Come with your moonpact, we will shoot it.”

As sweeper closing the debate, International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor pulled it all together – 30 years of delivery by ANC governments, the democratic dividend including free education and healthcare, subsidised housing and social grants, and the 2024 Sona’s golden thread of electioneering.

Said Pandor, “There’s one thing I know – Tintswalo will vote ANC in 2024.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Brendan Temple says:

    Did any of the ANC speak about State Capture? It all there laid out bare. Billions stolen. WTF they live in a parallel universe. I have no words!

  • Zai AD says:

    Tintswalo options?
    Association of National Criminals
    Dodgy Alternative
    Erratic Flip Floppers
    Irrelevant Fumbling Party

    • Steve Davidson says:

      You know the biggest joke? The lying, thieving, corrupt ANC make these ridiculous speeches in the one booming city and the one booming province in this godforsaken country that just happens to be run by the totally competent DA. I realise you’re trying to joke, but you might want to change the DA’s one to ‘Dynamic Alternative’?

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