Cape Town – Days of speculation around the State of the Nation Address ended on Tuesday when Parliament's presiding officers postponed it, amid fears that it might once again descend into chaos.
"We wish to assure fellow South Africans and everyone affected by this decision that these actions are being taken in the best interests of Parliament and the country," National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete announced on Tuesday afternoon.
Opposition parties and the ruling ANC welcomed the decision.
As pressure for the removal of President Jacob Zuma mounted, opposition parties wrote to Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise, asking them to postpone SONA, while the EFF also tabled a motion of no confidence in Zuma and vowed not to let it proceed before this motion was heard.
Mbete recalled the "disruption, anarchy and chaos" that characterised SONA, from 2015 onwards, which has seen the forceful eviction of the EFF MPs.
"Developments this year, particularly the calls for disruption and/or postponement of the Joint Sitting [SONA], have, therefore, caused us great concern," Mbete read from a statement.
"We have, regrettably, come to the conclusion that there is little likelihood of an uneventful Joint Sitting of Parliament this coming Thursday.
"With this in mind, we decided to approach the President of the Republic to propose that we postpone the Joint Sitting in order to create room for establishing a much more conducive political atmosphere in Parliament.
"When we met the President, we then learnt that he was already writing to Parliament to ask for the postponement of SONA."
New date to be announced
Shortly after Mbete's announcement, the Presidency released a statement saying that Zuma had written to Mbete and Modise, requesting the postponement of the Joint Sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, which he had asked them to convene in order to deliver the State of the Nation Address (SONA).
"The President has requested the postponement due to certain developments which make it not conducive to successfully hold the sitting and deliver the SONA," read the statement.
While disruptions based on a resistance against Zuma loomed ahead of every SONA since 2015, the difference this time is that he is facing resistance from within his own ranks after Cyril Ramaphosa won the ANC's presidency in December, leading to intensified calls for Zuma to step down.
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The ANC's top six met with Zuma over the weekend in an unsuccessful bid to persuade him to resign, after which the top six met with the party's national working committee (NWC) on Monday evening. The NWC then convened an urgent meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) for Wednesday evening in Cape Town. The NEC is the body that can recall the state president.
After meeting with representatives from the parties represented in Parliament, Mbete - with Modise by her side - delivered the statement on the steps of Parliament shortly after 14:30 on Tuesday, some 52 hours before a president was expected to walk up those very stairs to deliver the address.
The new date for SONA will be announced later. Modise said there was a proposal to not postpone it for more than a week.
Mbete said they had to take into account the Budget speech, which will be delivered on February 21.