The people of South Africa are in trouble! We do not have a president and a government with a progressive vision and political will for the country. They are not in tune with the deep concerns of ordinary working people and they don’t care as long as they live off the fat of the land. The recent State Of the Nation Address (SONA) was significant because it highlighted the increase in the use of violence towards opposition to the ruling party in the full gaze of the nation; as well as President Jacob Zuma and the ANC’s continued indifference to the concerns of the nation.
The 2017 SONA reflected once again the steadfast support of the ANC within Parliament, and for its leader, Jacob Zuma, irrespective of the consequences for the country. While the recent Constitutional Court ruling delivered in 2016 looms large over Parliament, stating that Zuma did indeed undermine the country’s Constitution and his oath of office, formally Zuma remains the head of state. The ‘vote of no confidence’ in Zuma brought by the opposition failed in Parliament. Yet, as part of the democratic process in Parliament, it is the right of MPs to raise their opposition to Zuma’s continued leadership and the Speaker of Parliament has to preside over this respectfully.
However, Speaker Baleka Mbete, herself implicated by the Concourt ruling (and her deputy, Thandi Modise), did not maintain a modicum of respect befitting her position. Despite the focus on the ‘state of the nation’, Mbete’s narrow party politics got the better of her and she refused the DA’s request for a minute of silence to remember the 94 South African patients from Esidimeni who died. The situation deteriorated from then and this year’s SONA displayed an increased use of violence against dissenters, elected representatives. The EFF members were violently ejected from Parliament and journalists were also harassed in the Parliamentary Precinct. The abusive comments from ANC women MPs could be heard on camera, while the President smirked. While the violent ejection was taking place, at no point did the Speaker call for the orderly conduct of the white shirts and the ANC MPs.
The presence of the police in Parliament (the legislative), has already been ruled a violation of the separation of powers and the imposition of the Executive (government). This year, police and army reinforcements were on standby in the Parliamentary Precinct. While the Speaker said she would investigate further, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa -Nqakula confirmed the army’s presence in case of a ‘calamity’. This has created a sense of foreboding for the future: given the violence against MPs in full view of the nation, what will the ANC do to stay in power?
When he spoke, except for a few idle promises, once again Zuma did not address the preoccupations of the people; the unemployed, single women heads of families, workers and the youth. Many South Africans, especially those committed to the common good, are justifiably concerned about the increasing poverty, unemployment and social inequality. For many, putting food on the table everyday is out of reach. In a country as rich as South Africa, people go hungry every day and malnutrition is a main cause of children’s deaths. Similarly, parents and students are turned away from institutions of higher learning because of non-payment and millions of family/households are forced to survive on meager social grants.
However, ‘while Rome burns…’ so to speak, the president laughs. The country is rife with corruption scandals and the abuse of state resources, affecting himself, his family, his ruling party, his cabinet ministers and the elite. Corruption has become out of control, devouring the ANC itself. The party is wracked by factionalisms and divisions that threaten any future that it still has.
This SONA raises issues of concern for all South Africans committed to democracy and the common good.