'Are you taking notes, honourable President? We're choosing ministers now'

2018-02-20 09:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

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2018-02-19 17:42

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Cape Town - At 10:00 on Monday morning Cyril Ramaphosa is seated on the bench reserved for the president in the National Assembly, for only the second time.

On Friday he had a brief chance to get acquainted with this seat, in the few minutes before he got called to the podium to deliver his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).

READ: Ramaphosa to respond to MPs after SONA debate

This is what is being debated now, with ANC chief whip and big Ramaphosa supporter Jackson Mthembu behind the podium.

In front of Ramaphosa is a big Apple iPad and a keyboard, and he types a few points in a small font size while Mthembu sings his praises, sometimes nodding.

"Hayi..." grumbles the red-clad EFF MPs when ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu thanks Ramaphosa's predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

Laughter

In 2017 there was just a gap where the EFF is now sitting, as they were forcibly "helped" to leave the House during that year's SONA.

After Mthembu, it is DA leader Mmusi Maimane's turn, with his wife Natalie looking on from the sparsely populated public gallery.

READ: 'Please go to Marikana,' Shivambu 'sends' Ramaphosa, as it happened

The ANC MPs laugh when Maimane starts with his usual multilingual greeting of: "Fellow South Africans. Bagaetso. Dumelang."

In 2017, Maimane launched an attack on Zuma under the theme enemy of the people. The previous year he spoke about "Planet Zuma", and the year before that about a "broken man in a broken country".

This year, he takes a different tone. "We can fix South Africa" is the title of his speech.

"President Ramaphosa has promised the people of South Africa a 'new dawn'. I really believe that this is what he wants for South Africa. It is certainly what we want for South Africa," says Maimane.

"And I want to pledge my support, and the support of my party toward the realisation of this goal."

Ramaphosa nods, and his note-taking intensifies, with a serious, but calm expression on his face as Maimane gets into his speech.

The word "broken" is mentioned a few times in Maimane's speech, but he doesn't talk about Planet Zuma.

By the end of his speech, Ramaphosa made several notes.

Shock over Ndoro

After Maimane, Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu takes to the podium, and Ramaphosa nods when she congratulates him. He smiles when she uses his slogan for his ANC presidential campaign, "Siyavuma".

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen blurts out the slogan for Sisulu's aborted campaign: "It's a must!"

"It is a must," retorts Sisulu.

Ramaphosa reacts with shock when Sisulu says SABC news anchor Peter Ndoro lost his job after he mistakenly announced Ramaphosa's death (Ndoro didn’t lose his job; he took leave), and bursts out laughing when Sisulu says he must assure Ndoro that he didn't kill him.

Ramaphosa clasps his hands together and smiles with a nod as the EFF leader Julius Malema greets him with a broad smile.

Malema delivers his address with less intensity than when he participated in debates about Zuma's SONAs. He does build-up a head of steam and calls for Public Service and Administration Faith Muthambi's removal from Cabinet - Muthambi laughs.

As the debate continues, Ramaphosa trades in his tablet for a notebook and pen. Pen and paper was also more the note-taking style of his predecessor, who in 2017 used the type of notebook reporters tend to favour. Ramaphosa's is a bit bigger and seems to be bound in leather.

Ramaphosa's notes are rendered in what seems from the press gallery to be a slick cursive hand. Zuma used print and had the habit of repeating the letters of some words several times over each other, creating a bold effect on some words.

Zuma only wrote three lines in his notebook when Maimane spoke in 2017.

'Sing it'

By the time the House breaks for lunch after Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel finished his speech shortly after 13:00, Ramaphosa has filled several pages of his notebook.

His predecessor filled only two pages during the whole first day of the previous SONA debate, which stretched over two sittings.

After lunch, Ramaphosa had his tablet out again.

He seems to take fewer notes as the debate drags on, but he looks in the direction of the people behind the podium most of the time, often with one of his hands on his chin, sometimes with the tip of one of his spectacles' ears close to his lips, giving him a rather studious air.

He nods and smiles often, and shake the hand of the ANC speakers as they pass him after leaving the podium (The opposition speakers don't pass him, they're literally on the other side of the House).

When DA MP Natasha Mazzone quotes lyrics from South African rocker Arno Carstens, Ramaphosa says: "Sing it!"

Mazzone obliges, much to Ramaphosa's amusement.

She concludes by saying Ramaphosa should tell Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown: "You are the weakest link, goodbye."

Brown smirks, Ramaphosa smiles.

Land expropriation

During ANC MP Nocawe Mafu's speech, Minister of Home Affairs Ayanda Dlodlo sends Ramaphosa a note with a parliamentary messenger. After reading it, Ramaphosa looks in her direction, she says something and he makes a talking gesture with his hand and nods.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota seems pretty fired up. The whole House, Ramaphosa included, laughs when he complains that too much of the allotted time for his speech has passed, and when he refers to Ramaphosa by his previous title of deputy president.

Lekota vehemently opposes expropriation without compensation, and EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi asks him how much he was paid by the "Fascists of the Nationalist Party". Ramaphosa smiles.

As a steaming Lekota leaves the podium, Ramaphosa turns to Speaker Baleka Mbete in the bench next to him and says something to which she responds with a smile.

Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti sends a letter to Ramaphosa via Mthembu. Twice while reading it Ramaphosa shows a thumbs up.

Nkwinti's deputy, Mcebisi Skwatsha, delivers an impassioned case for expropriation. Malema gets up and says: "Are you taking notes, honourable President? We're choosing ministers now."

Ramaphosa laughs.

EFF MP Floyd Shivambu came prepared with several policy proposals.

Ramaphosa laughed when Shivambu said with a naughty glint in his eyes that the EFF specialises in giving advice.

'Your Ace is a joker'

However, Ramaphosa shows no reaction when Shivambu says he is uncomfortable with Ramaphosa's close relationship with white monopoly capital.

The second to last speaker is the DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, who garnered a reputation for his roasts of Ramaphosa's predecessor and the ANC.   

He spared Ramaphosa (Maybe he is still letting him marinade?), but had a go at ANC secretary general Ace Magashule.

"You have been dealt a bad hand by your own party but you simply cannot have a new deal, when the only Ace in your pack is actually a joker!" Steenhuisen said, eliciting a smile from Ramaphosa.

The debate is closed by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, who says listening to the opposition speakers, she has sympathy for Ramaphosa who has to prepare a response to them.

He nods knowingly.

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Read more on:    cope  |  da  |  anc  |  eff  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  cape town  |  parliament 2018  |  politics

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