Insofar as the SONA focuses on broad issues, it is cold comfort for those in Giyani, Metsimaholo, Polokwane who have no water because there has been no investment in infrastructure, writes Mbhazima Shilowa
The President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week has been overshadowed by the happenings before the speech that culminated in a walk out by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Like Jacob Zuma before him, Ramaphosa endured an hour and a half of interjections with some rudely telling him to sit down as they made points of order as is customary in the House.
Even a few days later the focus was still on utterances by FW de Klerk that apartheid was not a crime against humanity followed by an even more bizarre statement by his foundation that it could not be a crime against humanity as very few people have died to qualify as such as if a number of dead bodies is the sole determining factor.
While it was opportunistic of the EFF to raise the issue during SONA, it exposed the cavalier approach to current issues by the ANC and presiding officers.
It is not like they were caught off guard.
The red berets had given enough notice that they would object to his presence in Parliament, giving the ANC’s political committee enough time to develop a political response.
Alas it was not to be.
Their response ranged from stating the obvious: that De Klerk was there as a former deputy president as if that was in dispute to Zizi Kodwa saying De Klerk was not going anywhere.
Even if it may not have defused the situation, a better response by the ANC and the presiding officers would have been to note the point raised by the EFF, indicate agreement with it in principle and undertake to table it for discussion as they too share the view that his utterances were akin to opening the wounds of many who lost relatives in many massacres that happened under his watch such as Trust Feed and Boipatong.
Instead they came across as saying to the EFF, the fellow is going nowhere, get used to it.
In a sense De Klerk had simply reverted to type: during his tenure as minister and president during the apartheid regime “he knew nothing of the atrocities committed by the security forces even after these had been published in New Nation, Vrye Weekblad and the Weekly Mail”.
It was only a few days later that they too condemned his utterances.
By then the horse had already bolted as the South African Council of Churches and the Desmond and Leah Tutu foundations had already called on De Klerk’s foundation to retract the statement and to apologise.
As if it was not enough of a distraction from the president’s speech, the ANC whippery “approved a strategy aimed at having Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF taste a dose of his medicine” through repeated interjections (during the SONA debate) including raising a matter aimed at impugning his dignity and that of his wife, a matter that had been raised and overlooked by the presiding officers during the SONA fracas.
There is no way that Boy Mamabolo would have repeated the allegations he made against Juju without the consent of the whips.
In fact, the way two of his colleagues kept on asking Amos Masondo, the chairperson of the NCOP to ensure Juju respond to the question was like they were hounds set loose on a prey.
In the process they undermined Masondo, the House, the people of South Africa, especially those who are victims of gender-based violence.
It’s easy to condemn Juju, especially his response and use of the late Nomazizi Mtshotshisa to make his point.
I lay the blame at the feet of the presiding officers who should have called him to order on Thursday and again on Tuesday.
During my time as Gauteng Premier we were clear that you couldn’t impugn a member without a substantive motion, let alone a family member who wasn’t there to defend themselves.
As it is, once more the discussion is about the happenings in the House instead of the elaboration on the statement of the president by the ruling party or the opposition.
In a country where violence against women and children is rife, it was disgraceful to see the issue being turned into a political football with members across the aisle cheering those from their side who wanted to be seen to be pointing out how the other is defending women when in actual fact re-traumatising those who are victims of such violence.
Back to the SONA.
It’s often said that where one is, determines their view of the area.
Growing up, a hillock in my village was a mountain.
Now that I’ve seen mountains across the world I wonder how I ever thought it was a mountain.
Same on the SONA.
While there is a common thread across the board that bemoans the low levels of growth, high unemployment, high levels of poverty, the impact of Eskom on growth and jobs, especially in small, medium and micro enterprises, the quality of education, health and social and economic infrastructure, there is no agreement on what programme of action the government should implement to turn the ship around.
Whereas the business community’s focus was only on what the president says on Eskom, SAA, safety and security and dealing with corruption, the majority in rural areas and urban centres – especially the informal settlements and townships – are concerned with jobs, poverty, water, quality of health and education and the state of roads in their areas.
In these areas when power goes off due to load shedding, most of the shops close as they have no generators while they have no cellphone reception as cellular towers rely on electricity.
The president spoke of the establishment of a state bank, a sovereign fund and moving forward with the National health Insurance plan.
No one can quibble with the proposals save for the fact that it is difficult to see how this can be realised in the current economic climate where the government is calling for austerity measures as we are unable to balance the books with calls being made to increase Value Added Tax.
Maybe it is high time we focus on what will come from the states of provinces addresses in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
These are the provinces which can reverse high unemployment levels, address low economic growth, high levels of poverty and poor infrastructure in housing, water, sanitation, schools, clinics and roads.
Insofar as the SONA focuses on broad issues, it is cold comfort for those in Giyani, Metsimaholo, Polokwane who have no water – not because of the drought, but because there has been no investment in infrastructure necessary for the provision of water.
Same with road infrastructure.
Many tarred roads such as the one between Giyani and Phalaborwa, Lemondokop and Mamaila and between Bandelierkop and Elim have now become gravel roads.
This is the state of nation for these areas that they had hoped the president would address.
One hopes that the Budget to be unveiled by the Finance Minister will respond to their pleas so that they feel that the new South Africa has dawned for them too.
– Mbhazima Shilowa is a former Premier of the Gauteng Province, trade unionist and Cope leader.