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South Africa’s State of the Nation Address fell into ‘shameful theatrics’
February 10, 2017, 6:32 pm

Zuma’s ANC rejected calls by the opposition to remove the president in November’s no confidence vote [Xinhua]

The 25 Members of Parliament (MPs) of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party were evicted from the South African Parliament on Thursday after they had delayed the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Jacob Zuma by 78 minutes.

MPs from the EFF, who garnered 6 per cent of the popular vote in the 2014 national and provincial elections in South Africa compared with the 62 per cent of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), raised numerous points of order and heckled Zuma, calling him a criminal.

The chaos seen by most South Africans on TV left them disgruntled and disillusioned.

Jonas Langa, a health worker at a non-governmental organisation, said she was disgusted by the whole process.

“I am angry at both chairs for not allowing points of order. I am also not happy about the stunt [the disruption in Parliament] the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) pulled and how they were handled out of the House,” she said.

This was the third SONA in a row from which the EFF had been evicted, but it was the most violent yet, as fists were thrown between the red overall wearing EFF MPs and the white-shirted Parliamentary security personnel.

Opposition parties the DA, Congress of the People (COPE) and the Freedom Front Plus walked out of Parliament shortly after the EFF were ejected.

Losing focus of the challenges?

Although it made for riveting reality TV, it diverted attention from the problems which economists and investors hoped would be addressed by the President.

“SONA was shameful theatrics. Many adjectives can be used to describe what happened in Parliament last night, but these come to mind immediately,” Colen Garrow, an economist at Meganomics told The BRICS Post.

“When the focus should have been the economy, the nation was instead focused on anticipating how long it would take for the first punch to be thrown,” Garrow said.

South Africans were waiting to hear about job creation, GDP growth after poor economic performance for two years, and tertiary education fees.

Zuma promised “fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female”.

He also said real GDP growth would improve to 1.3 per cent this year from only 0.5 per cent last year (population growth is 1.1%), and said that six million new work opportunities in state-run public works would be created by the end of 2019.

Many South Africans were looking to see if State-owned electricity utility Eskom would sign the outstanding Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPP).

Eskom had refused to sign PPAs in the latest round of the REIPPP because it says that renewable power costs more than the power produced by its own plants.

The percentage that non-Eskom power producers provide to the Eskom-operated national grid has risen from 4.1 per cent in December 2007 to 6.3 per cent in January 2016 and 8.8 per cent in December 2016, even as South Africa’s electricity consumption fell by 1.2 per cent in 2016 after a 1.5 per cent drop in 2015.

Zuma said that he had told Eskom to sign the PPA, a move that was welcomed by the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), which represents more than 170 players in the renewable energy sector. It said that bold leadership on renewables sent a strong message to investors.

“This sends a strong message to investors that the renewable energy industry is very much open for business. We now hope that Eskom heeds the President’s commitment to finalise these agreements and the Minister moves ahead with the announcement of the expedited round,” SAPVIA said.

SAPVIA CEO Mike Levington said that many new construction jobs will be created, many current jobs will be secured, and foreign and local investment will flow into the sector and the economy.

Opposition outcry

But opposition DA party leader Mmusi Maimane, said SONA left him saddened.

“The disturbing violence in the House showed quite clearly the true state of our nation – a deeply unpopular government at war with itself has broken Parliament, and has broken the Constitution,” he said in a statement.

“The mission to remove this President and this ANC government from office is now more urgent than ever. Our democracy depends on it,” he said.

A survey by polling organisation Afrobarometer in 2015 showed that strong majorities of South Africans support media investigation and reporting of government mistakes and corruption (70 per cent) and believe the media is effective in this role (82 per cent).

A report by South Africa’s former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela triggered the latest scandal involving President Jacob Zuma and other state officials, who are accused of improper and unethical conduct in the awarding of state contracts.

The latest investigation focuses on allegations of Gupta family involvement in the removal and appointment of ministers and directors of state-owned enterprises, resulting in the improper awarding of state contracts and benefits to their businesses totaling billions of rand.

The report does not provide proof of criminal wrongdoing by President Zuma, but it does provide enough evidence such as cellphone movements, banking transactions and flight details to suggest Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta were involved in the award of large coal mining contracts by Eskom.

The Gupta family has denied any wrongdoing.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University business school professor Chris Adendorff said SONA highlighted the divisions within South Africa and he expected heightened political contest.

“Overall the SONA had some positive initiatives [the commitment to get Eskom to sign the PPAs with the IPPs and the commitment to work with the private sector]. However, we need to address the root causes of our problems facing our country and very little of that came to the fore. The divisions are getting bigger and bigger,” he told The BRICS Post.

Zuma has indicated he will stand aside as the ANC elects a new party leader next year. And he will also end his second-term presidency in 2019, leaving the door open for a bitter challenge for the top spot as his party fights to regain South Africans’ trust.

Read more: South Africa’s opposition see eye to eye with Trump

Helmo Preuss in Pretoria for The BRICS Post