ANALYSIS: EFF will probably disrupt SONA, but they should be wary

2019-02-07 05:18
EFF leader Julius Malema addresses the media on his party's plans ahead of the State of the Nation Address in February 2018. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alaister Russell)

EFF leader Julius Malema addresses the media on his party's plans ahead of the State of the Nation Address in February 2018. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Alaister Russell)

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The scene is set to once again hear the now familiar refrain coming from someone in red, just as the president is about to deliver the State of the Nation Address (SONA): "Honourable speaker, on a point of order…"

Two weeks ago, Malema warned President Cyril Ramaphosa to come clean on his dealings with facilities management company Bosasa or face a question-and-answer session in Parliament, instead of delivering the SONA.

There is of course, no question-and-answer session scheduled for Thursday's proceedings – Parliament's presiding officers, Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise, have already indicated that the president's address is the only item on the order paper for the special sitting of both Houses of Parliament.

At a briefing last week, they said they hadn't received any correspondence from the EFF, and if there was any disturbance, it would be dealt with in terms of the rules.

This means that the EFF MPs can be ejected from the chamber if it comes to that. Yes, as jarring as it is to see elected public representatives violently removed from Parliament, the rules allow it.

Disruption and belligerence

Nothing suggests that the EFF has abandoned their plan to "question" Ramaphosa on Bosasa, and EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi confirmed to Netwerk24 that nothing changed since they issued their warning. So, it would be surprising if the EFF doesn’t do anything shortly after 19:00 on Thursday.

Disruption and belligerence are very much part of their brand. It was last year at times odd to see Malema and his charges beaming benevolence in Ramaphosa's direction. But this is an election year, and they have to prove to their base that they are still the firebrands who hounded Zuma. 

Furthermore, banging the Bosasa drum takes attention away from the VBS scandal in which they too are embroiled, and to their thinking, might restore their image as vehemently anti-corruption, which took a knock as the extent of the VBS rot was revealed last year. 

A confrontation with the ANC's president will also create some clear blue water between them and the ANC, which will undermine the DA's negative campaigning that the ANC and EFF are in cahoots. 

Furthermore, being ejected from Parliament will allow the EFF to play the role of martyrs, a role they play well and which is essential for budding populist Malema to prove that he is an oppressed outsider.    

There are thus clearly enough reasons for the EFF to sow their brand of mayhem.

It will be interesting to see to what extent they take it. If they refuse to budge and the bouncers make an unwelcome appearance to throw them out, they will automatically be suspended from parliamentary proceedings for five days, meaning they will not be allowed to participate in next week's debate on SONA. If they leave on their own accord, as they did in 2016, this won’t happen. Getting kicked out will score them full marks in the martyrdom stakes, but in an election year, participating in this SONA debate can be prime airtime.

Starting a thing, and then backing down, doesn't really seem part of the EFF playbook and in this instance, would look weak, rather than reasonable. The thing the EFF should keep in mind is that it is unlikely that Ramaphosa will look at the spectacle, maybe chuckle as the EFF are kicked out and then stutter through his speech as if nothing happened. 

Hooligans

When EFF MPs made racist remarks to DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and attacked Agang's Andries Tlouamma during a question session with Ramaphosa last year, he didn't pretend nothing happened and then complained at the end of the session about being disrespected when he comes to Parliament, as his predecessor did. He showed leadership by calling on MPs to live up to the ideal of non-racialism, coming across as a statesman, while the EFF looked like hooligans.

This time Ramaphosa will surely be prepared for something from the EFF, and if he plays his cards right, he could use it to his benefit.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, the DA issued a statement calling on Ramaphosa to come clean on Bosasa, saying he couldn't deliver SONA with that cloud hanging over his head. They didn't issue any threats of disruption. My educated guess would be that they leave the house in a huff if Ramaphosa doesn't address the issue before SONA. 

While there was a weird solidarity between the DA and EFF during the Zuma years, tension simmered – to put it mildly – between the two parties last year. It wouldn't be far-fetched if the EFF accuses the DA  of trying to upstage them and the DA throws a few jibes about "VBS looters" in the EFF's direction on Thursday evening.

This could escalate into an unusual situation where two opposition parties have a go at each other at a SONA, which would probably be received with much amusement in the ANC benches.

Either way, rest assured that it is unlikely that SONA 2019 will be a love-in like it was in 2018. 

- Jan Gerber is a parliamentary reporter for News24 and he has suffered through five SONAs.

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Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  sona
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