Wednesday was the second day of the State of the Nation debate in the National Assembly. By their very nature the debates are adversarial, with the opposition critiquing the president’s speech and Zuma’s MPs shielding him and providing justifications for any supposed shortcomings. We were in parliament, and here are highlights from the debate:
A big talking point was the country’s energy crisis. DA’s Shadow Minister of Energy Lance Greyling was scathing in his critique, saying the blame for our recent need for candles, torchlights and gas cookers lay squarely at the feet of the ANC. “This crisis is not merely an uncomfortable situation but a dire threat to the country,” began Greyling. He added that the only way to solve the current crisis is “to break Eskom’s monopoly by encouraging competition in the energy sector [Eskom is currently responsible for 95% of the power generated in the country]”.
ANC MP Daphne Ranto had an opposing view, and it elicited a chorus of heckles from the Assembly. “The load shedding you are experiencing in this country is not a crisis. The government is in control,” Rantho said. “… It’s just used to regulate the supply and demand of electricity.” Rantho left with the caveat that Eskom should be protected from “liberal attacks” and “prophets of doom”.
The land issue
When the president announced last week that “foreign nationals will not be allowed to own land in South Africa but will be eligible for long-term lease”, he drew sharp criticism from the opposition. In his response to the president’s address on Tuesday, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said: “This will only kill investment and jobs.” Fellow DA MP Nqaba Bhanga echoed this sentiment on Wednesday, adding that “the ANC’s land reform project has been an abject failure with Minister Gugile Nkwinti [of Rural Development and Land Reform] estimating the failure rate at 73% to 90%.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the ANC. Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Bheki Cele asked the House why such a big fuss was being made when there’s international precedence that limits foreign land ownership. “Lomsindo oduma lana angazi ubuyaphi? [I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss about this],” commented Cele. “In the EU, you’re only allowed to own EU land if you’re an EU member and in Ireland you’re only to own land if you’re a citizen of the country. This isn’t unique to South Africa,” he said.
The Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Mulder focused the majority of his speech on criticising the president’s lack of accountability. He said Zuma should stop deflecting blame and take full ownership of his role in the country’s current political and energy crisis.
“Scapegoat politics,” began Mulder. “Hitler blamed the Jews. Mugabe blamed white farmers and called anyone who opposed him a ‘sellout’ and in Rwanda the Hutus blamed the Tutsis,” Mulder continued. “In South Africa, load shedding affects us all but the president blames Eskom and Apartheid.”
Mulder also claimed that in a recent interview, the president was quoted as saying “when white people came here, the problems started”. He cited this as one of the causes of the “‘racial hysteria” that supposedly inspires farm murders. He ended his speech by saying South Africa’s first citizen should own up to his faults. “Stop scapegoating politics. It’s the opposite of what Mandela did. Stop driving me and Afrikaners away. Let us join hands and make South Africa a better place.”
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