The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma gave the State Of Nation Address on February the 9th, much later than the scheduled time. The events of that fateful night shocked not only the country but the world. South African’s where glued to their television screens from 19:00 to listen to the address by Jacob Zuma. Nothing could have prepared the nation for the events that unfolded that evening. Ntshebele spoke to local Political Analyst Sello Mochosa who unpacked the events of the SONA.
In your opinion, how does the Sona 2017 reflect on us as South Africans?
It reflects us as a politically frustrated and divided nation and our hard won democracy is the victim. We are divided on how and who should hold president Jacob Zuma accountable, some says the ANC while some says parliament. Whereas in parliament its two different sides of the same coin, with the opposition ganging up against the ruling party in the name of protecting the constitution and the ruling party using the governing powers within democratic means to challenge the thread. We are at a political crossroad. Above all the events reflect a nation with a deepening and accelerating political problem.
Some people feel that the SONA confirmed that SA politics are now dangerous and no longer reflect democracy, what is your take on that statement?
Politics is a dirty game for politicians and dangerous for the public. It only become a dangerous activity when politicians call a spade a spade. They will deal with you or remove you. In many instances political goals were achieved at the expense of democracy. So democracy is always the victim of political interests.
The EFF being thrown out of parliament after refusing to leave, do you think it served the purpose of what they were trying to achieve?
The annual event, when South Africans stood still, to listen to the state of the nation has been transformed into a sort of a chaotic reality show policed by security forces. EFF achieved their goal, they wanted to tell and show South Africans and the rest of the world that President Jacob Zuma is no longer a legitimate president, he broke his oath of office. They turned highest stage and podium of order into a disorderly one. They stole the show, in the morning the main stream media covered EFF SONA chaos than what the president said during his address.
Opposition parties say that President Zuma broke his oath, but as a head of state, despite what they say he has done, do you think he was disrespected?
It was disrespectful. In developing countries like South Africa democracy is a luxury tool. A tool which allows peaceful removal of political leaders that are corrupt, incompetent or leaders who are no longer connecting to citizens aspirations. We tend to forget that democracy is before all, the most effective means of popular control over those holding power. President Jacob Zuma is still constitutional president of the country and he needs to be respected. The constitution tells us that the president may be removed either by a motion of no confidence or an impeachment trial only on the grounds of a serious violation of the constitution or the law. The constitutional court never ruled that the president seriously violated the constitution, which is why the opposition parties cannot go back to the Constitutional Court for further interpretation but decided to unmask a political battle.
EFF not being part of the debate, what impact does it have?
Let us not have oppositions for the sake of opposing. EFF MPs are elected by the people to represent the people in parliament. To represent and participate in all parliament proceedings. By so doing, they will be carrying the mandate of the people forward. It is important for them to engage in SONA debates, to oppose programmes that will not benefit the country and guide government on what needs to be done. The society is favoured to gain if the political parties debate and compete over ideas. The debate of the opposition over political issues and public policy enables them to sell themselves to the people. Opposition by itself promotes efficient government and automatically guarantees justice and welfare for the people. There is a price tag attached to the stay away and our children and grandchildren will be the ones who will have to pay the price.
The EFF being removed from parliament during the SONA and DA staging a walk out, and other opposition parties later walking out, are we to suspect a coalition in this regard?
We all know that all opposition parties are in a coalition bid to oust the ANC. We have seen how they dealt with the ANC after the August 3rd elections. Few years back, it was a challenge for the opposition parties to organise themselves as an alternative to the ruling party. Today they it appears that they have the potential and political capacity to have major impact. All opposition parties are willing to summon all available resources to oust the ANC. They are even prepared to compromise some deadly held principles.
The violent removal of EFF members, was it necessary?
Rule 53A of the National Assembly purports to deal with a situation where an MP refuses to leave the chamber when ordered to do so by the presiding officer in terms of the Rule 51. Rule 51 allows a presiding officer to order an MP to leave the chamber. Only if the presiding officer is of the opinion that a member is deliberately contravening a provision of the rules. EFF MPs deliberately contravened the provision and disregarded the authority of the chair. The rules allow the presiding officer to instruct the sergeant at arms to remove the MP from the chamber and the precincts of parliament if MP refuses to leave as instructed by the speaker or presiding officer.
The SONA ultimately proceeded but at that time most people felt indifferent. What harm can be caused by this detachment?
It is a political goal for the EFF that is why they have made this a political battle than legal battle. It harmed the leadership of Jacob Zuma as he was the Big Fish in the house but above all it harmed the ANC as the ruling party because this is now a political battle for political points. It is one of those agendas seeking to discredit the ANC. Even if we had a good president, opposition parties will never applaud him because doing so will be giving a green light to the ANC. It also deepens president Jacob Zuma in serious political trouble, his party is loosing support. I can say it is a double edge sword causing detrimental set backs to South Africans and ANC. Many South Africans lost interest and did not pay attention to hear government’s plans about real issues facing our country.
Can you comment on the ‘security’ measures that were put in place on that day?
Only parliamentary protection unit and the sergeant at arms are allowed to be part of the security measures. Security measure can be beefed up as a result of the security thread assessments done by police and the state security. If there was a need for more officers, the police have units such as the tactical response unit, national interventions unit and the special task force, according to me they are equipped enough to deal with high risk thread. It was unconstitutional to deploy the army for normal policing duties like maintaining law and order. I think it was a political deployment not operational. This is the reason why the constitution governs the deployment of military, to prevent it from being abused for political purpose.
Baleka Mbethe and Thandi Modise were accused of protecting the President, what caused the accusation?
I do not think they are protecting the president, they are acting within the parameters of the house rules. Their main duty is to protect the programmes of the house and speakers on the podium. When they call the house to order, they are not protecting anyone but maintaining order in the house. I have never seen or suspected that the presiding officers are protecting the president from accountability but from MPs who were timely being disruptive during his address.
The SONA debate reveals more personal attacks and name calling amongst members of parliament, in a country that faces many social challenges, what are they (members of parliament) projecting to the nation?
Personal attacks are a further testimony to the political crisis in the country. Politics is a tough game, but no need for personal attacks. That’s political intolerance and leaders on the political left and right should keep that in mind. The masses are watching and learning from them. Political tolerance must start with them as leaders.
Does the SONA set the theme of the political sphere moving forward? What can the nation expect after the events of Sona 2017?
Not only the 2017 SONA. It is going to be the order of the day as long as Zuma is still the president of the country. This is the rabbit hole opposition parties uses to campaign and gang support against the ANC. If Zuma survives, the ANC will suffer come 2019 elections. The opposition have already painted an image that symbolises president Zuma as a major problem in the country. Many people now believed that the issue of corruption is completely intertwine