17 February 2018

South Africa: New Songs At SONA 2018

They came in singing, the EFF, dressed in their red overalls and hard hats - a scene which, at previous State of the Nation Addresses (SONA), signalled that trouble was brewing.

MPs from the other parties came into the National Assembly chamber in dribs and drabs, mingled across party lines, and taking selfies.

ANC MP Derek Hanekom, a staunch supporter of President Cyril Ramaphosa, took a picture of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - Ramaphosa's main opponent at last December's ANC presidential battle - along with two other female ANC MPs.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan stood with his hands in his pockets, chatting to DA MP Kobus Marais and ANC MP Gerhard Koornhof.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa's jogging buddy, Trevor Manuel, who happens to also be a former finance minister, and his wife Maria Ramos took their seats in the gallery reserved for the president's guests.

Later, Ramaphosa's brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe, also took a seat in the presidential gallery.

In the public gallery sat former president Thabo Mbeki and former deputy president and final apartheid-president FW de Klerk, with one seat between them. Further along the same row was former speaker Max Sisulu next to his son Shaka.

The EFF continued to sing as the Chamber and gallery filled up, with IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who sat in front of them, shooting a few glares in their direction. EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi led a spirited rendition of Azania.

They continued to sing as the premiers from various provinces walked in to applause from the ANC benches.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was at the back of the line of premier and she stopped to say hello to Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula, who sat closest to the aisle. Whether or not the prolific tweeters exchanged social media strategies, has not been confirmed.

The EFF remained singing when the provincial speakers entered the Chamber. But when the judiciary, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng walked in, they stopped abruptly, and started applauding, with the rest of the House.

The judges all walked past DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who shook each jurist's hand.

The EFF then took their seats.

They didn't rise for the presiding officers but, when Ramaphosa entered, they shot to their feet and applauded with the rest of the House. The DA's applause seemed lukewarm.

Usually, a few seconds after the imbongi (praise singer) finishes his part of the proceedings, and the president is called to the podium by Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete, an EFF MP would rise for their first point of order of the evening.

But this time it didn't happen. Instead, a smiling -not a scolding - Malema had something to say as Ramaphosa started his address by acknowledging the dignitaries.

Ramaphosa responded with a laugh - a hearty one - not a "heh, heh, heh" laugh, and included "Honourable Malema" in the list. Malema responded with a big smile.

Ramaphosa got going

Gone were the large print letters on folios in a folder. Instead, the SONA was on a large tablet - white letters over a black background.

He thanked his predecessor, Jacobs Zuma, and the EFF MP's groan evolved into cries of "Booooo!"

But no one in red jumped up for a point of order.

Tentative cries of "Hear! Hear!" rang out of the DA benches when Ramaphosa said: "We are continuing the long walk he [Nelson Mandela] began, to build a society in which all may be free, in which all may be equal before the law and in which all may share in the wealth of our land and have a better life."

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba had been photographed playing a game on his tablet the day before. The photograph went viral. But, on Friday there was no electronic device seen near him. Instead, he opted for an old school pen and paper on his desk.

Ramaphosa got into his stride, speaking fluently, and not pausing in the middle of sentences.

Sometimes the whole house applauded; sometimes only the ANC.

When Ramaphosa spoke about expropriation without compensation, the EFF ruptured into applause, along with the ANC. The DA MPs remained quiet, glum.

The whole house cheered when Ramaphosa commended the people of the Western Cape for saving water.North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo turned to Zille, seated next to him.

If you watched last year's SONA, you might recall how Mahumapelo shouted: "F**k you!" to the DA.

But this year there was none of that. He sat snugly next to Zille. They whispered in each other's ears and shared the odd smile.The whole house cheered vociferously when Ramaphosa said he "will personally take action to ensure no person in government is undermining implementation deadlines" set by the Constitutional Court, regarding the payment of social grants. Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini wasn't present - just as she wasn't the day before when Ramaphosa was elected.

Ramaphosa then turned his attention to state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

"We will change the way that boards are appointed so that only people with expertise, experience and integrity serve in these vital positions. We will remove board members from any role in procurement and work with the Auditor-General to strengthen external audit processes," he said.

This was again received with enthusiastic applause from both sides of the aisle. Lynne Brown, Minister of Public Enterprises, didn't join in. She just glared in Ramaphosa's general direction.

Behind her, in the section of ministerial benches one could call Gupta Corner, sat Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, looking particularly glum.

Ramaphosa promised strong action against corruption.

"Aaaaaace! Aaaaaaaace!" the EFF began chanting in reference to beleaguered Free State Premier and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who laughed and gave a slight shake of his head.

When Ramaphosa was about an hour and twenty minutes into his speech, Mbete called for order for the first time.

At previous SONAs it took that amount of time before the president could get a word in.

The EFF calmed down, without arguing with Mbete.

When Ramaphosa began to conclude by quoting the late, Hugh Masekela's "Thuma Mina", Malema, sporting the naughty grin of a benevolent class clown rather than the vicious scowl at previous SONAs, said: "Sing it! Sing it!" Ramaphosa laughed and did not oblige.

When the president stood back from the podium slightly, after he uttered the last word of his address, the whole House rose.

At previous SONAs this didn't happen, largely because most of the opposition had either been kicked out or left on their own accord.

The ANC MPs broke into song, tapping their left wrists with their right index fingers and then raising their arms, singing "It is time for Ramaphosa to rise".

The usually reserved Mathole Motshekga danced particularly animated, while Dlamini-Zuma tapped her wrist in a rather stately fashion.

The EFF joined in, but they tapped their wrists together, like someone would when being cuffed by the police, singing "It is time for Ramaphosa to ensure arrests".

Brown didn't join the singing particularly heartily, clapping her hands a few times before packing her belongings in her handbag and heading for the door.

By this time Zwane was long gone.

Source: News24

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