ANALYSIS: Four things to note about the SONA debate

2019-06-30 12:06
Naledi Chirwa during the State of the Nation Address 2019 debate at the National Assembly. (Photo by Gallo Images/Netwerk24/Jaco Marais)

Naledi Chirwa during the State of the Nation Address 2019 debate at the National Assembly. (Photo by Gallo Images/Netwerk24/Jaco Marais)

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The future is feminine. That is, if we have a future at all. The DA changes its tune, only a little bit, and Cyril still doesn't want to sing about Bosasa. These are some of the observations parliamentary reporter Jan Gerber scribbled in his notebook up in the press gallery while looking down on MP's during Tuesday's debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA), and President Cyril Ramaphosa response the following day. 

Womandla! Patriarchy, watch out!

In a debate that for the most part plodded along in the way these debates have done in the past, three young, black women delivering their maiden speeches provided a breath of fresh air. The ANC's Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, EFF's Naledi Chirwa, and DA's Siviwe Gwarube were the three new MP's who delivered some of Tuesday's finest speeches, presenting new perspectives and the flickering hope that Parliamentary debates can be elevated out of the bog of stagnant mediocrity it has been stuck in. 

Being former Fees Must Fall activists, it was no surprise that Mkhatshwa and Chirwa's speeches had an activist slant, taking clear aim at the patriarchal status quo. "Let us whip patriarchy out of our society," Mkhatshwa put it. Gwarube's speech differed in tone, but also demonstrated a broader vision than merely bashing the governing party, reading snippets of the topic at hand's Wikipedia page, and rehashing party slogans.

Climate crisis? What climate crisis? 

President Cyril Ramaphosa had a few words about climate change in his State of the Nation Address the week before, acknowledging that it "will threaten our very existence". Some would say "will threaten" puts it a bit euphemistically.  But didn’t propose any plan, or even a committee to establish a commission to talk about getting a plan. 

Given that the climate crisis threatens human existence as we know it, one would think this would be the type of thing our Parliament needs to talk about because, clearly, a grand plan is needed to deal with climate change. But hardly a word was said about the matter. In fact, DA MP and spokesperson for finance Geordin Hill-Lewis suggested that the carbon tax is scrapped.

South African politicians, across the whole political spectrum, need to wake up and take climate change much more seriously. 

A change in the DA's approach

Without ol' Jacob Zuma to kick around, the DA seemed at a bit of a loss in the theatrical aspects of Parliamentary work for most of last year. This in all likelihood played a role in the loss in electoral support.  As the Sixth Parliament got going, much of the DA's communications made mention that they will protect the centre and that they will look to support the governing party where they are acting in the best interests of South Africa. What this means is that they want to be a more constructive opposition.

This approach, if executed well, could change some of the negative perceptions of the DA, like people viewing them as protectors of white privilege, tone-deaf and out of touch, or a party wanting government to fail so that they have something to complain about. During the debate, there was a marked shift in the emphasis of the DA's speeches. Sure, they still had a go at corrupt figures, but the tone was less hysterical than was often the case in the Fifth Parliament, and there was a bigger focus on presenting the DA's policy alternatives, minimising the condescending tone.

While it will definitely be good for Parliament if debates are actually about policy, it will also place the DA's policies under greater scrutiny. In his speech, DA leader Mmusi Maimane proposed seven reforms. It can be summarised as privatise, privatise, privatise some more, break the unions, change the minimum wage. In a rare moment of lucidity Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula rightly called it Thatcherite. It is debatable whether this policy direction will whip up a flurry of support for the DA and whether it is the best way ahead for South Africa.

Also, if they intend to use the Western Cape, where they govern, as an example as to why their policies are better than the ANC's, they'll have to come up with a very good explanation for the stark inequality in the province. Or even better yet, come up with a tangible solution.

Ramaphosa dodges the Bosasa question, again

During the debate, EFF leader Julius Malema challenged Ramaphosa to take the nation into his confidence and "come clear" on the dealings between corruption accused company Bosasa, now known as African Global Operations, his son Andile and his election campaign. Maimane also mentioned this. During his reply, Ramaphosa did not say a word about Bosasa.

This follows his pattern from the debate after his SONA in February, where almost all the opposition speakers had something to say about Bosasa. 

This approach by Ramaphosa is odd. If laid the facts on the table, the air will be cleared. Instead, next time there is a question session, you can bet good money that he will be questioned about it.  His bullet train won't leave Smart City Station until this matter is laid to rest. 

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  politics  |  sona debate

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