The postponement of the State of the Nation Address (Sona) has been described as “an opportunity to give hope” by the ANC’s chief whip Jackson Mthembu, while opposition parties believe the ANC has no choice but to stop president Jacob Zuma from making the address.
Parliament’s presiding officers took the decision primarily due to threats of disruption, speaker Baleka Mbete said in a statement on Tuesday. But Mthembu believes the postponement could is a positive sign.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a Sona that is not chaotic, disruptive, that gives our hope to our people and an opportunity to have a Sona of our dreams,” Mthembu told journalists at parliament.
National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise said the postponement would not be longer than a week, while Mbete said it was taken in the best interests of the country.
The decision follows a request by opposition parties to have the Sona postponed until a motion of no confidence against Zuma could be debated.
But ultimately, Mbete said, the threats of disruption by parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) convinced them to delay the annual gathering.
“Developments this year, particularly the calls for disruption and/or postponement of the Joint Sitting, have, therefore, caused us great concern. We have, regrettably, come to the conclusion that there is little likelihood of an uneventful Joint Sitting of Parliament this coming Thursday,” the statement read.
Mbete said that Zuma was also in the process of writing a letter asking for a postponement. But Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen said the president was forced to do so.
“I think Mr. Zuma’s hand has been forced. He maintains that the people of SA love him but we all know that’s not the truth. Parliament has now said allowing you [Zuma] to deliver a Sona would reduce the evening to a farce,” Steenhuisen said.
Zuma’s fate as head of state will be sealed when the ANC’s national executive committee meets in Cape Town on Wednesday, and new spokesperson Pule Mabe confirmed that its parliamentary caucus supported the postponement.
EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee said his party would now insist that a motion of no confidence be debated prior to any state of the nation, “as long as Mr. Zuma’s resignation letter has not been read into the record of a sitting parliament.”