Zuma addresses a protesting nation

11 February 2016

Saarah Survé, Stellenbosch Department of Journalism

Cape Town – President Jacob Zuma delivered the State of the Nation address (Sona) against a backdrop of protests opposing his leadership and an ailing economy.

Last year the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disrupted Parliament, the cell phone signal was jammed, the Democratic Alliance (DA) all wore black and the EFF wore their usual red getup. Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, demanded answers to the Nkandla-saga and led his party out of Parliament.

This year all eyes were on the Sona, because of the events leading up to it. In December Zuma fired and replaced then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene with David van Rooyen and then replaced him with former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which sent the Rand plummeting.

This sparked “Zuma Must Fall” marches in December and protests on Thursday in Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, while Zuma delivered Sona. According to Independent Online, police fired stun grenades to disperse the protesting crowds who threatened “to breach barricades erected outside Parliament” ahead of Zuma’s address.

The EFF threatened to disrupt this year’s Sona if Zuma did not explain why he fired Nene, and disrupt it they did. They were determined to be heard. As soon as it began, members of the EFF, including its leader, Julius Malema, and Chief Whip, Floyd Shivambu, stood up to “seek clarity of the rules in Parliament.” They later chanted “Zupta Must Fall” as they marched out of Parliament on the command of Speaker, Baleke Mbete.

According to News24, Julius Malema then delivered what he called the “real” State of the Nation address, outside of Parliament. Malema said, “Zuma has lost his credibility and legitimacy as a president of South Africa. Therefore, we refuse to uphold the respect which is accorded to a president. We refuse to be addressed by a criminal. To us, he does not exist and we will never respect him.”

One of Zuma’s main points in his address was that wastage must be cut because of economic pressures and that the cost of maintaining two capital cities is too high. Zuma said, “The biggest expenditure that we would like Parliament to consider is the maintenance of two capitals. The cost is too high for the executive. This is an urgent matter.”

Independent Online published an article on five of the new topics which Zuma announced. These include that the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, will soon announce a major campaign on HIV prevention and that a state-owned pharmaceutical company has been established.

Once the President had finished his speech, Maimane had a lot to say during an interview with the SABC. “The President failed to deliver a plan for jobs for South Africans,” he said. “No decisive budget cuts were made. The President should have been bolder.” Maimane also stated that the President did not address issues of basic education and had no overall plan for the country.

Mukhtar Joonas, Honorary Consul of Mauritius in Cape Town, said that he had “never seen anything like this anywhere else in the world.” Joonas went on to say that “the speaker should have taken control and not entertained the disruptions.”

Harold Doley, American Ambassador to the Ivory Coast and founder of the US-Africa Chamber of Commerce, said that “President Zuma has made a lot of mistakes, as do all leaders.”

When asked if he had seen anything like the South African opening of Parliament elsewhere in the world, Doley said, “One of the worst and most disrespectful things I ever saw was during President Obama’s State of the Union address; a congressman shouted out, ‘You lie!’”

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