Radical socio-economic transformation was the recurring theme of President Jacob Zuma’s 2017 State of the Nation address (Sona) delivered in parliament on Thursday.
The address was initially halted by an hour of disruptions by opposition parties – particularly the EFF, which refused to recognise Zuma as a legitimate president, and the DA, which demanded to have a moment of silence for the victims of the Life Esidimeni debacle in Gauteng.
The EFF was forcibly removed from the House, exchanging blows with Parliamentary security members on their way out. Meanwhile, the DA walked out in a moment of outrage after it emerged that pepper spray had been emitted inside Parliament at the time of the EFF’s removal.
Despite the chaos, Zuma’s address was able to resume, revealing government’s plans for 2017, which fell in line with the resolution for radical socio-economic transformation adopted at the ANC’s NEC Lekgotla in January.
Starting off his address, Zuma highlighted the promises fulfilled since last year’s Sona
which included the aversion of a ratings downgrade and the signing of an agreement on the national minimum wage.
ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said this year’s focus on radical transformation showed the existence of a seamless process from the ANC January 8th statement, to the NEC lekgotla and the Cabinet lekgotla.
Mantashe said SONA offered the opportunity for the ANC to finally explain what it meant in its quest for radical transformation.
“The focus on the economy was not an accident and a detailed attempt to explain what we me mean about radical economic transformation. We’ve been talking about it as a slogan, we get into details and the SONA did exactly the same,” Mantashe said.
The return of land to black ownership also formed part of government’s plans for radical transformation. In his address Zuma said only eight million hectares of the 82 million hectares of arable land in South Africa had been transferred to black ownership.
At the ANC’s January 8 anniversary, Zuma said the party would speed up land reform through expropriation. He called on Parliament to speed up the process of finalising the Expropriation Bill.
“We had stated our intention of using the Expropriation Act to pursue land reform and land redistribution, in line with the Constitution. I have now decided to refer the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration on the basis that the Bill might not pass constitutional master. This is due to inadequate public participation during its processing,” he said.
He also criticised, in hindsight, government’s choice of an initial stance, which offered recipients of land reform processes the choice of either accepting land or money as compensation. The president urged communities not to accept money, which he said perpetuated continuous dispossession.
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti expressed his happiness with Zuma’s address and said it was the first time that the president showed a commitment of this extent towards the much talked about radical transformation.
“It’s not been happening as such that government has been taking its tunes on the policy perspectives and the strategic direction of the African National Congress, That’s what the president has done today,” he said. Nkwinti said it would now be up to government departments to properly implement the radical stance and that the ANC would monitor the process.
Mzwanele Manyi of the Progressive Professional’s Forum said he was also happy about the stance on radical socio-economic transformation, which he said would see the lives of many South African’s changed. But Manyi said he was unhappy with national treasury, which he perceived to be throttling development. He accused treasury of failing to take strict actions against cartels believed to be defrauding the state, while taking a harsh approach such as blacklisting smaller players for minor transgressions.
“The transformative angles we are looking or, we are not about to get with the kind of attitude that we have from national treasury. So we hope they change mind or something happens … because you must understand that nothing happens without money,” he said.
And while Zuma’s address was welcomed by ANC MPs and some guests of the night’s event, it was still overshadowed by the disruptions which Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said were a show of people expressing their views without fear. But Radebe said that expression should not have come at the expense of other MPs’ rights.
“There were close to 500 people there, each one of them have their right. So when the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) made the ruling that she did [to remove the EFF], she was also affirming the right of others to listen to the President,” he said.
An exasperated defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, also explained the decision to deploy 441 members of the SANDF to Parliament to “maintain law and order” She said the SANDF members were merely on standby in the event of a “calamity”.
“I can assure you that the only soldiers [who] were visible and dressed in the manner they were dressed, and carrying the kinds of weapons they were carrying were people who were deployed on route, which is the route of the [presidential] convoy coming to Parliament,” she said.
While Mapisa-Nqakula insists there was no militarisation of Parliament, NCOP chair Thandi Modise said Parliament would investigate the alleged emission of pepper spray in the house by security officials.
Now that the address has ben concluded MPs will return to Parliament next week to question Zuma on the contents of his speech.