SONA: Dream, dream, filling up an idle hour and 20 minutes

2019-06-21 12:05
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address 2019 in Parliament. (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address 2019 in Parliament. (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images)

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"Dream, dream, even for a little while. Dream, dream, filling up an idle hour. Fade away, radiate," Blondie's punk princess Debbie Harry sang in 1979. 

Well, President Cyril Ramaphosa's dreaming filled roughly an idle hour and 20 minutes on Thursday evening and it certainly didn't resemble anything remotely punk rock. 

With all the talk about dreams, it was no wonder 2019's second State of the Nation Address (SONA) was a rather slumberous affair. Perhaps, familiarity breeds indifference.

It was, after all, Ramaphosa's third SONA in 17 months. 

Even the EFF, which is always keen to liven up proceedings, came across as rather sedate. 

With all the other MPs already seated, the EFF entered the National Assembly chamber goose-stepping in unison in their red onesies, their singing more subdued than usual. But this happened only after the judiciary's procession entered the House.

Usually, at SONAs, the EFF doesn't stand for any of the processions, except for the judiciary. At the February SONA, party members stopped their singing to stand and applaud the judiciary and made a show of applauding the jurists longer than other MPs.

It would have been interesting to see how the fighters would have reacted to the judiciary this time - given the recent spate of adverse court rulings against the party.

While the MPs entered the House, former finance minister Trevor Manuel and his wife Maria Ramos were seen in animated conversation with Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago in the presidential gallery.

Also in the presidential gallery was former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who had a long conversation with Roelf Meyer. 

After the processions, and after Ramaphosa's praises were sung, Speaker Thandi Modise called him to the podium to which he ascended almost unnoticed.

As he started, the EFF MPs remained seated - no points of order to ask "pertinent questions" about corruption-accused company Bosasa or Pravin Gordhan's appointment as Minister of Public Enterprises.

The first few minutes of the address were delivered in respectful silence. Only a muffled cough here and there disturbed the drone of Ramaphosa's voice. 

After a few minutes, a few hands came together from the ANC benches when he said that South Africans demanded action.

"Land! Land!" EFF leader Julius Malema grumbled, with a sense of urgency in his voice as Ramaphosa spoke about his priorities. 

"Honorable Malema, I'm coming to land," Ramaphosa responded in good humour.

Later, he said: "In the next five years, we will accelerate the provision of well-located housing and land to poor South Africans."

The ANC MPs applauded, but Malema did not react.

The lights only came on in the DA benches when Ramaphosa spoke about Eskom.

"Shocking! Shocking!" a DA backbencher said. 

"It's YOUR responsibility!" DA MPs complained when Ramaphosa said fixing Eskom was a "collective responsibility".

When Ramaphosa spoke about promoting locally made goods, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel smiled broadly and showed a double thumbs up. 

Perched in the public gallery was ANC secretary general Ace Magashule.

When Ramaphosa spoke about the Reserve Bank, saying that he reaffirmed the Reserve Bank's constitutional mandate to protect the value of the rand in the interest of sustainable growth, and to do it independently, Magashule did not react.

Opposition MPs started saying: "Ace!" in the sing-song manner the ANC chants his name and Magashule smiled.

Some mocked laughter came from the DA benches while Ramaphosa spoke about corruption. "No Guptas," someone, presumably an EFF MP, added.

A ripple of applause coursed through the ANC benches and public gallery after Ramaphosa condemned corruption. Magashule didn't applaud.

Towards the end of the address, when Ramaphosa spoke about his dreams, some EFF MPs became more involved.

"Where!?" EFF MPs asked - Mbuyiseni Ndlozi the loudest - when Ramaphosa said he dreams about the establishment of a smart city.

"I have a dream! I have a dreeeaaaammmm!" EFF MPs mocked.

As Ramaphosa quoted Ben Okri, Magashule yawned. But he jumped up and applauded with other ANC members at the conclusion of the speech. The opposition didn't join in the standing ovation.

After Ramaphosa's February 2018 SONA, his last word still echoed through the chamber when the whole house rose to its feet, applauding, and the ANC burst into a rousing version of Phakama Ramaphosa, tapping their wrists to indicate that it was Ramaphosa's time to rise.

On Thursday evening, Ramaphosa was halfway to the National Assembly's exit before the first, tentative voice rose to start singing Phakama and other ANC MPs slowly joined in for a lukewarm, drowsy rendition. 

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Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  politics  |  sona 2019
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