A TAIL OF TWO SITTINGS
There could be no greater contrast than comparing the sitting of Parliament for the State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma on 9 February 2017 and the Budget Speech delivered by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on 22 February 2017.
Before even entering Parliament the atmosphere was tense, the militarisation of the parliamentary precinct as its surrounds led one to believe that they were entering a war zone not the once revered Parliament of Nelson Mandela or Thabo Mbeki.
This show of force by the military contributing to the total cost of over R11 million Rand, of which only R4 million was budgeted and paid for by Parliament, to hear the President to drone on for an hour and a half in a monotone repeating platitudes, most of which were repeated last year and the year before, and not be implemented in the new year.
EFF MPs greeted Zuma’s arrival in the chamber by calling him a thief and of being a ‘constitutional delinquent’ countered by African National Congress (ANC) MPs chanting ‘ANC’.
After an hour, Mbete ordered in Parliament’s security to remove the red berets. The EFF MPs fought back as they were forcefully ejected from the chamber after holding up proceedings for nearly an hour.
The DA responded by walking out of the chamber after accusing Zuma and the ANC of breaking Parliament and the Constitution, while ANC MPs accused leader Mmusi Maimane of being a racist sell-out and one ANC member telling DA Chief Whip John Steenhuizen to “F%#* Off”. While stern action was, correctly, taken against the EFF the Presiding Officers allowed the ANC members to do and say what they wanted with no repercussions.
Mmusi Maimane threatened that they will be going to court over the use of force in Parliament. He has subsequently laid charges at the Claremont Police Station.
What I personally found disgusting was hearing the obvious delight with which the President of the Republic sat laughing HeheHeee as he witnessed the removal of the EFF from the National Assembly. Not considering the rights or wrongs of the EFF or its behaviour in parliament but the display of brutality and hooliganism by the parliamentary ‘white shirts’ and Zuma in the Chamber was not becoming of the Parliament of a constitutional democracy.
“Finally,” Zuma said, laughing and appearing unbothered by the fighting that had unfolded before him as he started his annual address.
As this will in all probability be the last SONA that Zuma will address as both President of South Africa and the ANC one would have expected him to be upbeat and tell the nation of the ANC successes over the past twenty two years. But no Zuma told the nation that:
- After 22 years of democracy and ANC rule, the majority blacks are still not economically empowered. As if it’s not ANC’s fault. Despite BBBEE and other government incentives they have been unable to grow the economy;
- After 22 years of ANC rule he bemoans the fact that government has not been able to achieve the land redistribution targets;
- He brags that many people would not be able to put food on the table if it wasn’t for social grants as if this is something to be proud about. Social grants are meant to be a safety net for the elderly and infirm but not as the means of sustaining 30% of the population as a result of failed government economic policy;
What he did not tell the nation that the whole system of grant payments would be teetering on the edge of a disaster by the end of March as a result of government ineptitude;
- He would have us believe that all these wrongs would be solved with the swish of a magic wand by introducing radical economic transformation and it must not only be radical but also
Revolutionary action conjures images of violence, destruction and death, as the president continued the thought flashed through my mind of how those prospective investors that Cyril Ramaphosa and team South Africa had carefully lobbied in Davos would react to the images conjured by the Presidents .
Naturally, he said nothing about how much corruption and poor administration had cost the economy or the damage done to South Africa’s image when the president was found to have “failed to uphold, defend and respect” the Constitution. Still nothing was said about the damage caused by the al-Bashir debacle or the decline in the provision of basic health care and education.
No! White Monopoly Capital is the root of all evil in Zuma’s opinion. The Gupta/Zuma capture of the state has no effect, large black monopolies have no effects but being a non racial party Zuma and his acolytes have decided that it is only when monopoly capital is white it is evil and must be destroyed at all costs.
Hardly two weeks later the atmosphere in and around the very same parliamentary precinct was starkly different from President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address which erupted in chaos a few weeks earlier. This time the mood in Parliament was generally serious and orderly going off without a hitch.
While there are many aspects of Gordhan’s budget that people may not agree with he was able to outline the status quo and his proposals in a logical and cogent manner which would not send prospective investors scampering for cover.
Gordhan reminded us that growth and equity are structurally linked: “We need to transform in order to grow, we need to grow in order to transform. Without transformation, growth will reinforce inequality; without growth, transformation will be distorted by patronage.” Not a word about revolutionary change.
In his budget Gordhan manage a delicate balance between addressing some of the needs of the poor and underprivileged without plunging the country into a debt cycle spiralling out of control or taxing business and the rich out of the country.
Treading carefully he supported Zuma saying that “We agree with President Zuma that a new perspective on economic transformation is required.” But he continued with a warning to his critics that “Acting too quickly to reduce the deficit would harm service delivery, delay economic recovery, and compromise tax revenue collection. To ignore our fiscal targets would result in interest rate hikes, unsustainable commitments and credit rating downgrades,”
He warned against a scenario in which short-term gains would quickly give way to financial stress, capital flight and cutbacks in service delivery
Rather than propagating the approach that Zuma and his allies have adopted that “radical economic transformation” is the solution, which in Zuma talk is code for ‘freeing resources from the National Treasury and Pravin Gordhan’, he rather adopted a more conciliatory approach by saying “transformation must unite, not divide South Africans. This is the task entrusted to us by Oliver Tambo, Helen Joseph, Walter Sisulu and Rolihlahla Mandela.”
The Finance Minister clearly nailed his colours to the ANC’s radical transformation agenda but linked it to a clear warning about the dangers of “state capture” by stating “Without transformation, growth will reinforce inequality; without growth, transformation will be distorted by patronage.”
Walking the tightrope of transformation and reconciliation he emphasised that “We do not seek to reproduce the racial domination that was the hallmark of apartheid nationalism. Our transformation will be built through economic participation, partnerships and mobilisation of all our capacities.”
Gordhan was emphatic that “All South Africans must share in a more prosperous future.”
“Fellow South Africans, if we make the right choices and do the right things we will achieve a just and fair society, founded on human dignity and equality. We will indeed transform our economy and country so that we all live in dignity, peace and well-being,” Gordhan said in his speech.
The harsh divisions in the ANC were obvious when Pravin Gordhan was concluding his speech, as he thanked his deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas; the ANC members applauded politely and then looked on bewildered as the opposition parties gave him a loud and prolonged applause.
On concluding the budget speech Pravin Gordhan received the normal standing ovation from the ANC and an unusually prolonged standing ovation from the opposition parties but for the first time ever four ANC Cabinet Ministers sat glumly as the rest of the parliamentarians applauded the finance minister.
There could be no surprise that the ‘glum four’ were all Gupta acolytes Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini‚ Minister of State Security David Mahlobo‚ Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des van Rooyen‚ and Lindiwe Zulu‚ the Minister of Small Business. They had clearly been out manoeuvred by Comrade Pravin.
The irony of it all
After all this talk of radical economic transformation with or without it being revolutionary now that Zuma’s trusted ally is in a fix for not implementing a Constitutional Court order issued three years ago to replace the service provider for paying Social Grants the minister finds herself having to request the Court to condone using the existing contractor for a further two years.
Tim Brauteseth the DA representative on the parliamentary watchdog SCOPA pointed out the service provider Cash Paymaster Services is an American owned company run by a white Australian of French origin and has a white Afrikaner CEO yet neither the department nor the minister seem concerned about radical and revolutionary economic transformation.
After all remember the contract is to pay 17 million grants per month at a cost of R16.44 per beneficiary equivalent to R279.5 million per month or R3 353.8 billion per annum and there will surely be an escalation, rumoured to be up to R22.00, to renew the contract!
How easy it is to ignore ideology or principles when the kickbacks are good enough?
Until next time,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.