It was predictable that, from the moment Speaker Thandi Modise introduced the State of the Nation Address last week, the EFF’s pantomime began.
Vuyani Pambo, spokesperson for the party, led the charge against Minister Pravin Gordhan: “Today we sit here with a minister who is working for white monopoly capital, who is making sure that the state-owned entities go to his friends.”
This and other hysterical monologues by members of the EFF offered no actual justification for the removal of Minister Gordhan from the National Assembly.
They referred to no rule that would have supported a suspension of proceedings, as if merely disapproving of the president’s Cabinet (as presumably most opposition MPs do) were enough.
More importantly, they gave no evidence to support their absurd claims against the minister. They attacked him in increasingly degrading and racist tones, but merely shouting something more loudly does not make it true.
In this sense, the EFF’s behaviour in the National Assembly was a reflection of how little it thinks of South African voters.
To put it bluntly, the party must believe that South Africans – and poor voters in particular, whom it considers as its base – are stupid. It must believe that voters do not care for facts, that they cannot see real corruption where it happens, and that they can be duped into believing that corruption exists where it does not.
It must believe that South Africans have no memory and that they have forgotten how resolutely Minister Gordhan stood, sometimes alone, against State Capture.
It must believe, in short, that voters will ignore the party’s own alleged flagrant corruption; its tactics of aggression and intimidation; its disregard of law and fact.
Luckily for this country, the EFF is wrong. Voters across South Africa, rich and poor, black and white, have little tolerance for corruption. They are sensitive to facts, aware of what is happening in their country, and vote according to their own lived experience.
Poor voters suffer most from the effects of corruption. They are most vulnerable to its depredation. The victims of the large-scale theft of funds from VBS Mutual Bank are under no illusions about who was responsible, and who benefitted from their tragedy.
The EFF has the wrong theory about South Africa, and that is why it will never succeed. That is why each time an EFF member of Parliament stood to speak on Thursday night, they dug their own hole a little deeper.
Indeed, their attempts to disrupt the State of the Nation served only to highlight the dignity and composure, the detail and deference to fact, of the speech itself.
Across the world, democracies are falling victim to the politics of spectacle and hate. From the rise of Trump in the United States to the chaos of Brexit in the United Kingdom, from the rebirth of fascism in Brazil and India to the climate-denying ethnic chauvinism of Australia, a pattern of extremism and populism has emerged which threatens the foundations of democracy itself.
There are very few countries left in the world where the speech that President Ramaphosa delivered on Thursday could be heard.
The State of the Nation Address spoke of unity and inclusiveness, setting out a vision for a country in which “we all feel free, safe and comfortable.” It spoke of equality and the fight against poverty. It spoke of freedom and dignity for all South Africans.
It acknowledged the existential threat of climate change, and committed to a just transition in which no person is left behind. It spoke of the rights of women to be protected from violence perpetrated by men. It spoke compassionately of the rights of children, of those who are disabled, of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.
It was characterised by a sense of kindness, dignity and grace that is rare in the world today. In that way, it was a reminder of how lucky we are to live in this country.
It was also marked by an unusual level of detail and attention to the mechanics of policy and implementation.
From a significant reduction in the time that it takes to get a water licence to innovative models of finance for infrastructure, from the allocation of new spectrum to a revolution in renewable energy supply, it laid out a careful account of the progress that we have already made and the steps that we will take to enable a strong economic recovery.
Having committed in last year’s address to develop a comprehensive plan to address youth unemployment, the president outlined five specific interventions and the direction of significant resources towards this effort.
These are the details that opposition parties routinely neglect. Rebuilding the state and changing the trajectory of an economy require serious policy-making, a commitment to evidence and a deep understanding of how government works – not empty slogans and exhortations.
Most importantly for this moment in South Africa’s history, the president’s address emphasised rapid delivery and a relentless focus on implementation. If you are among the many South Africans who believe that progress has been too slow, the speech should reassure you that we agree – and that you will see real change in the months to come.
This year, we work together to preserve that special quality which South Africa has, the unique sense of promise that makes it a privilege to live here. This year, we put our country on a trajectory of growth and inclusion.
“This year, we fix the fundamentals.” DM