ANC’s show of force at Sona

2017-02-05 06:05
President Zuma in Parliament for the state of the nation address. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam, Pool/AP

President Zuma in Parliament for the state of the nation address. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam, Pool/AP

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Johannesburg - In an unprecedented move, President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation (Sona) address will run parallel with an ANC event he will address immediately after the traditional opening of Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday.

Sona will take place amid some of the most tightened security ever in Parliament, which includes the involvement of the State Security Agency (SSA) and a security shutdown of the parliamentary precinct.

Zuma will then speed off to address ANC supporters at the Grand Parade – about five minutes away – in what the ANC calls a “people’s assembly” where 10 000 people are expected to attend.

The move carries echoes of the Freedom Charter process – the use of the term people’s assembly – with radical economic transformation the theme of the gathering.

Former president Nelson Mandela’s first public address after his release from Victor Verster prison in 1990 was at the same venue.

It will also be the first time that Zuma, or any president, addresses an ANC rally on the day of Sona.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa told City Press the event was about organising people around Cape Town in the main to highlight the significance of the ANC’s urgent task, “things we expect Sona to address, such as returning land to the people in the context of radical economic transformation”.

Kodwa said this was the “main overarching theme” of the ANC’s message this year.

He said the ANC’s top officials, led by Zuma, would land in Cape Town on Sunday.

The meeting of the party’s national working committee will also be held in the city this week, ahead of a number of activities leading up to Thursday.

Meanwhile, opposition parties and the media have raised concerns over heightened security measures in and around Parliament for this year’s Sona event.

The DA’s John Steenhuisen revealed that his and other opposition parties opposed the level of planned security for Thursday when they were briefed by parliamentary officials this week.

“We don’t understand the involvement of the SSA on the vetting process and on the precinct on the day; we don’t understand why they need to have such a heavy involvement on what is essentially an ordinary parliamentary function,” said Steenhuisen.

Steenhuisen said they questioned the “security shutdown” of this one day to protect the president when, the following week, Zuma goes to the same Parliament for three days for the Sona debate without the same security requirements.

“It’s over-the-top security that is not necessary. Why must parliamentary guests be vetted by the SSA? It doesn’t make sense, but it speaks to this oversecuritisation of Parliament,” he said.

The Press Gallery Association, an association of Parliament-based journalists, has also voiced concerns about how the security plans may impede journalists covering the event.

Association chairperson Joylene van Wyk said Parliament had planned to box journalists in a holding area next to the Flame of Remembrance and that journalists who wanted to move around the precinct would be escorted by Parliament security.

Another first is the allocation of numbered seats in the media bay for parliamentary journalists, which will not be transferable.

At a media conference on Thursday, the secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana sought to assure journalists that they would not be impeded in doing their work.

“In terms of journalists doing business, this will not be inhibited and is guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said.

Mgidlana also said Parliament would not cut the live TV feed in the event of a disturbance in the house again, and would respect a court judgment to this effect.

Referring to the ANC rally, secretary of the ANC’s Dullah Omar region, JJ Tyhalisisu, said they had applied for a gathering of 30 000 people, but the City of Cape Town approved a decreased number of 10 000.

She said other organisations who submitted gathering notices for that day were the National Union of Metal Workers for 500 people and the SA Unintegrated Forces United Front for 100 participants.

Some ANC members, however, view the gathering as a show of force by Zuma loyalists in the ANC.

“This is about defending Zuma, and that he must be seen to be supported. It’s actually a gathering of forces in one area at the same time,” said an ANC member who wants to see change in the leadership of the party.

Read more on:    state security agency  |  anc  |  jacob zuma  |  parliament 2017  |  sona 2017
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