On Thursday, the president delivered his reply to the State of the Nation debate. With disorder having been parliament’s lingua franca in the past few days, it was weird to see him deliver his speech without any disruptions. No walkouts, no noisemaking and certainly no security forces rearranging any MP’s dental structure. Here are a few talking points from his speech:
The president answers some tough questions
President Zuma has been catching a lot of flack lately. The majority of the opposition’s responses to his State of the Nation Address were centered around his supposed failings as a leader. From failing to stop the disruption in parliament last week, to his inability to produce a cabinet that can resolve the current energy crisis and his contentious announcement that foreign nationals won’t be allowed to purchase land in South Africa; Zuma has had to answer some pretty tough questions.
On the matter of rolling blackouts, the president admitted “that load shedding is indeed a serious challenge and an impediment to economic growth” while assuring that his cabinet has short, medium and long term strategies to deal with the matter. And what about the proposed Land Holdings Bill (which states that foreign nationals won’t be allowed to purchase land)?
“I have also received emails from concerned members of the public seeking clarity [on the bill],” President Zuma began. “The answer is that the Land Holdings Bill applies to agricultural land. It does not affect those foreign nationals who are planning to buy homes or residences,” he would later add.
President Zuma extends an olive branch to Malema
In the days following the State of the Nation Address, the EFF’s parliamentary leader Julius Malema has called Jacob Zuma “a champion of corruption”, reiterated that the president must “pay back the money” he used to build his homestead in Nkandla and rubbished the claim that South Africa has “a good story to tell”. And following the EFF’s dismissal from parliament last week, it’s safe to assume relations between the two were…err… tense to say the least. So you can imagine the surprise that painted it’s way across everyone’s face when the president applauded Malema for his response to the State of the Nation Address (in particular, his concern about labour brokering and workers who are employed as temporary workers for up to 20 years).
“I must also commend the honourable Malema for really dealing with the State of the Nation Address because he did, and that’s what is wanted. We debate our views in this democracy to be expressed here properly and with respect,” said Zuma.
Pieter Mulder gets a history lesson
On Wednesday, the Freedom Front Plus’ parliamentary leader Pieter Mulder accused President Zuma of “driving Afrikaners away from the country” and inciting “racial hysteria”. Mulder was specifically referring to when the president said at an ANC fundraiser that “all the problems when Jan van Riebeeck landed in South Africa”.
“Honourable Mulder, no one is chasing Afrikaners away,” responded the president. “That quote was said during an ANC celebration and I was merely giving the history of this country… History is history – we can’t deny it. So when I said when Jan van Riebeeck landed here, it was the beginning of our problems, that’s a historical fact,” Zuma went on. And that’s just the preamble. What followed was a lengthy narration that included a history of the Anglo-Boer war, the Battle of the Blood River and the ANC’s motivations for joining the liberation struggle. Zuma concluded this section of his speech by announcing to Mulder: “No one can chase you away, you belong here”.
In all, the president managed this one pretty slickly. With all attention routed squarely at him, he successfully managed to navigate a minefield of political criticism and waning public confidence. For now anyway. In the end all it took was a laugh here, an olive branch there and the same old, tired line that “despite the challenges”, good things are on the way and “South Africa is a success story”.
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