SONA 2016: Underwhelmed, opposition parties give Zuma a Zero
Flat. Dry. Nothing new. No details beyond removing red tape for investors in the wake of the glimmer of a silver lining when President Jacob Zuma reached that line in his speech with “turn-around strategy.” This was the reaction from opposition parties after Zuma’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday evening. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
First Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota was asked to leave the House. Then the Economic Freedom Fighters, chanting “Zupta must fall” (a reference to the ties between the Zuma and Gupta families) walked out.
EFF leader Julius Malema, standing on top of the stairs of the Marks Building opposite a giant screen showing the president reading his SONA, said: “We do not agree to be addressed by a man who admitted he’s stolen the money and is now prepared to pay back the money”.
It was a direct reference to the president’s lawyers who just two days earlier conceded in the Constitutional Court that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s finding that a reasonable proportion of the money spent for at least the cattle kraal, chicken run, swimming (fire) pool, visitors’ centre and amphitheatre should be repaid.
Watch: SONA 2016 – Day of protests turns violent
The “Secure in Comfort” report also found Zuma’s actions had been inconsistent with the duties of his office to protect state resources.
Co-incidentally, Madonsela, dressed in a stunning yellow lace-top ball gown – she described it as “a celebration of victory” – was a guest in the public gallery in the House.
“We decided to engage Mr Zupta… because we realised Zuma has lost credibility and legitimacy as the president of the Republic of South Africa,” said Malema. “This is a man who has not put the interests of South Africa first. This is a man who said the ANC comes first. He will address the ANC caucus and its DA (friends).”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane earlier had insisted the SONA must go ahead. His party spin machinery said it wanted to hear a solution for the 8.3 million unemployed South Africans. DA parliamentarians were sporting blue badges which said “8.3m jobless.”
“More of the same. No plan for unemployed South Africans,” Maimane said after the SONA. Maimane is sceptical about the announced austerity measures. “You can’t say austerity is about cutting flights for ministers. You must be bold!”
And that’s what Maimane promised to be next week when MPs get the opportunity to debate Zuma’s speech.
Meanwhile, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the EFF would not be able to debate anything as they weren’t there: “They walked out. They deprived themselves of the opportunity to debate…”
Asked for the ANC’s view on the president, who has had a torrid ten days or so (and not just in the ConCourt), Mantashe replied: “We have confidence in President Zuma.”
As if on cue, ANC parliamentarians emerged from the House onto the colonnaded stairs of the National Assembly singing their support for Zuma. Later this turned into “uSolomon”, the song honouring uMkhonto we Sizwe soldier Solomon Mahlangu, who was executed by the apartheid regime.
This show of strength could not be further removed from Lekota’s earlier solo stand against the president in the House. After being booted out of the chamber, the one-time top ANC official-turned-Cope-cofounder explained:“This man (Zuma) is no longer the president… He is not the person to lead the country. Him? No!”
IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi was diplomatic, saying “the President didn’t hide the fact that we are in trouble”. But, he added, that was not good enough: “ I wouldn’t say I’m inspired”.
Another MP sporting a bow tie, red this time, United Democratic Movement (UDM) chief whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa was underwhelmed. “When he (Zuma) spoke about the turn-around, it’s exactly the same he’s been talking about.”
African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart really tried to find something positive, hanging his hat on the turn-around plan. But he acknowledged there was simply not enough detail in the speech.
Among those details, or at least broad statements of intent, Zuma included:
- The tradition of post-Budget vote departmental functions is over. Further reductions in conference, catering and entertainment, first announced in 2013, will be made as austerity measures curtail overseas flights, which must be shown to benefit the country.
- Parliament must soon consider “a big expenditure item” – that of maintaining the legislative capital in Cape Town, while the administrative capital is Pretoria. (During the Mbeki presidency a proposal to move Parliament up north came to nought amid public outcry.)
- Making South Africa a preferred investment destination would require a “common narrative from all of us as business, labour and government” as the state is launching a One Stop Shop/Invest SA initiative to signal the country is “truly open for business”.
- State-owned enterprises (SOEs) must be “properly managed” and implement department-identified projects over defined periods of time under proper monitoring. Recommendations of the SOE review commission would now be implemented.
- Tourism must be grown on the back of the weaker exchange rate as SATourism invests R100 million a year to promote domestic tourism.
- Government’s 9-point plan remains in place. The plan announced last year includes, ensuring a stable power supply, exploring the ocean economy, revitalisation of agriculture, mineral wealth beneficiations and labour market stability.
- Progress is being made on a national minimum wage, but this needed to be implemented so as not to stifle job creation.
- Government’s HIV/Aids testing and counselling initiative has led to 3.2 million people living with HIV/Aids on treatment, and anti-retroviral drugs will be supplied to the health department by the state-owned pharmaceutical company, Ketlaphela, which now has been established.
- With local government elections due within three months of May 18, the date of the last municipal poll in 2011, all citizens over the age of 18 must register as voters.
- As the SAPS has adopted a back-to-basics, 50 police officials have been killed in the 2015/16 financial year: “We urge the police to defend themselves when attacked, within the confines of the law”.
- The Living Legends Committee has been established to involve the performing arts in nation-building, as a presidential task team has been established to support South African artists.
- “There is a need to confront the demon of racism,” the president said before announcing Human Rights Day on March 21, will be commemorated as the national day against racism. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma stand before the State of the Nation address at the opening session of Parliament in Cape Town, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.
This article was originally published on Daily Maverick