Political parties in Parliament debate SONA
Debating President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), political parties represented in Parliament had diverse opinions on the speech, with some bashing the government and accused the President of failing to inspire confidence in his address to the nation, writes Sakhile Mokoena.
Some political parties argued that the speech was a replication of previous addresses with no evidence of improvement on promises made in the past. However, for African National Congress (ANC), the speech was a reflection of a government that was “focused, determined and hard at work”.
According to the ANC’s Chief Whip in the National Assembly, Ms Pemmy Majodina, the President, “gave full account of the 2020 state of the nation and crafted a clear way forward and implementation plan for 2021 … Mr President, the spirit of your address was an appeal for resilience and courage in this time of crisis that we are facing, with two major challenges – the coronavirus and struggling economic growth. We join millions of South Africans in expressing confidence in your government Mr President – focused, determined and hard at work,” said the Chief Whip.
She also reiterated the ANC parliamentary caucus’s commitment to robust oversight to ensure accountability and fight corruption.
In an apparent response to claims made by former Members of Parliament in the Zondo Commission that the ANC’s parliamentary caucus was protecting corruption and lenient on implicated government officials, the Chief Whip said: “I want to state it categorically that no member of the ANC has ever been instructed to cover up corruption. On the contrary, we instructed all our committee chairpersons, whips and members to leave no stone unturned and hold those responsible for the deeply disturbing acts of corruption accountable. “We reject the narrative that the ANC caucus has sought to micromanage committees and to prevent them from performing their duties.”
Ms Majodina also told the joint sitting about her party’s commitment to ensure the 6th Parliament remains consistent in taking action against corruption and crime, regardless of who is implicated.
“We have already demonstrated this commitment in the manner in which we have processed the AG’s [Auditor-General’s] first report on the expenditure of Covid-19 relief funds. The oversight committees called the respective Ministers and DGs [Dirctors-General] to account accordingly, when we do our oversight diligently as Parliament, using the powers vested in us by the Constitution, we are able to achieve decisive outcomes,” she said.
First to denounce President Ramaphosa’s address was the leader of the official opposition (the Democratic Alliance), Mr John Steenhuisen, who claimed that there is a growing realisation that the President cannot tackle the big issues of the day. “Except for a few lines on Covid-19 and the vaccines, this SONA was more or less the same as the ones in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The same burning issues are still right there at the top of the President’s agenda – promises made in previous SONAs – but very little evidence of improvement,” Mr Steenhuisen said.
He also argued that the President’s entire speech was full of massive contradictions between noble-sounding pledges and the realities of the government’s actions, and exposed a huge gap between what was promised and what the government is able to do or willing to do. “The President spoke of fixing the public service as he did in last year’s SONA, but what he really means is that he wants to continue with the ANC’s state capture project through the policy of cadre deployment.
Mr Steenhuisen also accused the government of discouraging entrepreneurship and making it as hard as possible for small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to survive because of unreliable power supply, rigid labour laws and incompetent state bureaucracy. He also
opposed expropriation without compensation, arguing that it is the antithesis of strengthening agricultural output. “It is a massive deterrent to investment, not only in agriculture, but in all sectors of our economy,” he said.
Reacting to the President’s announcement of an anticorruption advisory council, Mr Steenhuisen said the promise was meant to create an illusion that something was being done. “We don’t need another council or panel or agency. We need to bring back the Scorpions with their 93% conviction rate,” he said.
The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Mr Julius Malema, labelled the President as “incompetent, incapacitated and the most unreliable human being. Three years since you took office, you have not achieved anything that is worth mentioning – nothing to celebrate under your leadership. The conditions of our people are getting worse, while coronavirus has also worsened them.
“When you were elected President in 2018, the unemployment rate was 26.1%. Today it has increased to 30.1%, and the number of unemployed people has increased to well over 10 million. More than two million people who had jobs when you took office, no longer have jobs; you must take responsibility for that,” said Mr Malema.
Mr Malema also argued that despite empty promises at investment summits, the economy continues to shrink, adding that the country was already in recession for three quarters before the outbreak of coronavirus. This was made worse by the fact that the government’s contribution to gross domestic product continues to decline due to the reduction of the budget. South Africa’s industrial capacity was not growing because there was no coherent and cogent industrial policy for industrial expansion.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader (IFP) Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi was more concerned about corruption in government, and suggested that the costs of vaccines and their rollout must be scrutinised by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
“The problem in our country is corruption. It is unfortunate that despite the admission that South Africa is in an economic crisis, there were still those who saw a pandemic as a chance for themselves to get rich. Parliament must work hard to halt maladministration and fraud in government,” Prince Buthelezi said.
Mr Pieter Groenewald, the leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), was consistent on his party’s stance on government’s the black empowerment policy, saying this was discrimination against whites. “Covid-19 tourism relief grants and the equity grants excluded white South Africans, but the irony is that there are white business people who employ black people. Why don’t you want to assist them to keep their employees.? That is discrimination,” said Mr Groenewald.
The leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Mr Bantu Holomisa, said South Africa needs a competent government that can create decent living conditions and advance the livelihoods of all its people, especially the poor. He also commended the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture for uncovering explosive evidence of corruption that he said has been allowed to flourish for many years.
“There is still more to uncover and we must allow the Zondo Commission the time and resources to finish its job, and ultimately the money that was stolen must be returned to the people and the guilty must go to jail,” said Mr Holomisa.
The leader of the African
Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Rev Kenneth Meshoe, said the speech was a repeat of what the President has said in previous SONAs, with the exception of the government’s priority to fight coronavirus. “Whilst the ACDP welcomes the update of the economic recovery plan, we are nevertheless concerned that the upcoming World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) great reset in August will jeopardise the government’s economic recovery plan.
“On the face of it, our NDP [National Development Plan] and the WEF’s great reset have one major goal in common, they both aim for equality by 2030. However, there are huge disparities between the two. one of the strategies of the NDP is to broaden ownership of assets to historically disadvantaged groups, while according to the WEF’s great reset, you will own nothing and you will be happy. How is that possible?” remarked Rev Meshoe.
He also criticised the programme for “compassionate access” to the drug Ivermectin for patients with Covid-19 as “never intended to provide access to medicine, and demonstrating no political will to be compassionate at all, given the regulatory obstacles the programme presents. This is disgraceful and a flagrant undermining of the fundamental of the human rights of the patients and doctors,” said Rev Meshoe.
The African Transformation Movement (ATM) warned the President not to use Covid-19 as an excuse for government’s poor performance, saying
“corruption, unemployment and a poorly performing economy were there even before Covid-19”.
“We still say restore the R400 billion informal economy to the citizens in order to have a meaningful impact on the reduction of unemployment and poverty. It cannot be that more than 70% of the most basic level of the economy is in the hands of non-citizens. Prioritising citizens in the informal economy and jobs is long overdue,” argued ATM leader, Mr Vuyo Zungula.
Mr Mandla Galo of the African Independent Congress (AIC) commended the President’s speech, which he said was anchored in key developmental, high-impact growth initiatives such as boosting the manufacturing sector in order to ignite growth through job creation and export revenue.
He also advised President Ramaphosa to “urgently proclaim a fully-fledged import substitution agency to be housed within the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. This agency will have an import substitution strategy to focus on infantile industries, preferential procurement and targeted funding to textile, clothing, footwear and fibre industries”.
Mr Ahmed Shaik-Emam of the National Freedom Party (NEP) said: “We admit there have been successes in the country but equally, there have been failures. The fact of the matter is that despite the successes, we are still facing a crisis in South Africa,” he said. He also condemned corruption, saying the country was losing about R300 billion annually in infrastructure development because of nonimplementation of projects and underspending.
The Leader of Al Jama-ah, Mr Ganief Hendricks, applauded the President for speeding up legislation to fight genderbased violence. He also added that the President must now work on ending racial discrimination in the Cape Flats and capture the ganglands. He said Al Jama-ah also wants the NDP to be revisited to respond to the post-Covid new normal.
The Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Mr Seiso Mohai, welcomed the President’s vision on the transformation of apartheid’s spatial development patterns through the creation of postapartheid smart cities, saying this was long overdue. Mr Mohai also called for greater investment into human settlements to transform townships into liveable places that uphold the dignity of the people.
He also spoke strongly against corruption, saying it “deprives our people of basic services – the employment of incompetent, unqualified officials, illegal awarding of tenders, and non-payment of service providers are among the challenges faced by local municipalities. “We are confident that the rollout of the District Developmental Model countrywide will enhance greater cooperation, coordination and joint planning. This will in turn address the uneven capacity and development between different provinces by enhancing coordination of support and monitoring of local government by the national and provincial governments,” said Mr Mohai.
According to Pan African Congress’s (PAC’s) Mr Mzwanele Nyhontso: “SONA continues to be a makebelieve form of address without content. It continues to fail the dispossessed, most exploited, the dehumanised, the African indigenous majority. SONA failed dismally to address the fundamental interests of the African majority. Land remains an item of conflict in Azania and it must be repossessed and restored to its rightful owners,” he said.