Members of Parliament set the tone for an eventful five years ahead for the sixth administration when they debated President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of The Nation Address in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Ramaphosa’s address, last week on Thursday, highlighted seven principles and five goals for the next decade to improve South Africa’s socio-economic prospects. While the African National Congress hailed the address as frank but ambitious, the opposition derided it for a lack of detail.
Here are some notable quotes from the SONA debate.
Majodina moves with Mao
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina used her reply to Ramaphosa’s SONA to remind members of the legislature that the arm of the state played a critical role in holding executives in government and state-owned entities accountable on behalf of the South African people.
“The people have given us a mandate to restore the dignity and decorum of this institution. This Parliament must not be a conveyor belt but an activist Parliament,” said Majodina.
However, her willingness to quote former Chinese Communist Party chairman and former Chinese leader Mao Zedong may have raised an eyebrow or two. Zedong’s economic plan for China, known as “The Great Leap Forward” was widely blamed for the famine that rocked China in from 1958 – 1962.
She ended her reply to the SONA by quoting his famous expression: “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science.”
Two South Africas
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane used the analogy of two South African girl children who lead different lives because of their economic circumstances to highlight the impact of poverty and inequality on South Africans.
“This is the South Africa that we live in. This is our country. We live in two separate worlds. It’s not just about income inequality, it’s a nation of outsiders and insiders. We are making no headway in breaking the wall between those who have and those who do not,” said Maimane.
Former president Thabo Mbeki referred to SA being a nation of “two economies” in the early 2000s already, but was roundly slammed by other politicians for making this observation.
Fix our current trains first
Few remarks from the State of The Nation Address showed as much disdain for Ramaphosa’s vision of a South African bullet train and smart cities that those of Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.
Part of Ramphosa’s address last week spoke of a dream he had of South Africa developing first-world transport infrastructure and cities. Malema dismissed this, saying just weeks before the May elections, Ramaphosa witnessed, and was traumatised by, Metrorail’s dysfunctional service.
“Before the much-fantasised bullet train, you need to get the Shoshanguve train to operate and get our people to work on time. You don’t tell us about any plans for defective trains you have seen with your own eyes,” Malema said.
Prepare for the future. The future is now
African National Congress MP Nompendulo Mkhatshwa used her maiden speech at the National Assembly to condemn hate crimes, patriarchy and continued economic inequalities in South Africa which are informed by race and gender.
The new MP is known for being one of the leaders in the #FeesMustFall demonstrations which swept the country in 2015. She mentioned the fourth industrial revolution, saying that South Africa had to become proactive in the advent of artificial intelligence if it was to preserve job security.
“As we work to respond to the fourth industrial revolution, we must ensure that the fourth industrial revolution does not happen to us, but that we respond to how it unfolds in South Africa,” said Mkhatshwa.
Mzansi bullet train made in China?
African Transformation Movement MP Vuyolwethu Zungula took a dim view of Ramaphosa’s aspirations for first-world developments in SA, implying that the government would likely outsource such ambitious endeavours to the Chinese instead of procuring their production locally.
“Your speech was nothing but the promise of high-speed trains and smart city, which are probably not even built by South Africa, but are to be built by the Chinese,” said Zungula.
Watch your back, Mr President
DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis told the House that Ramaphosa’s biggest stumbling block in improving the country’s economic fate was that the ANC had members whose approach was diametrically opposed to that of the president.
“There is no agreement in the ANC about responsible economics. There is no agreement on development. The reason is this. The president is in office, but he is not in power,” said Hill Lewis.
We are cleaning up house
ANC MP Yunus Carrim played defence during the debate, firing back against the barbs that the opposition parties flung at Ramaphosa.
He dismissed the notion that ANC MPs sought to protect themselves from accountability from the years of “state capture”, saying the establishment of various commissions of inquiry showed that the ANC was cleaning up in government.
“It is rare that a party in power allows a commission to convene to air, albeit somewhat regrettably, our dirty laundry in the public, and the people of the country still vote for it,” said Carrim.
Ramaphosa is due to reply to the debate on Wednesday afternoon.