President Cyril Ramaphosa’s maiden State of the Nation address (SONA) received mixed responses in parliament as some opposition parties signaled their willingness to work with him, while others called for action instead of words.
Ramaphosa delivered his Sona a day after being elected to replace former president Jacob Zuma, who resigned in a televised address on Wednesday night.
The ANC’s chief whip Jackson Mthembu described Ramaphosa’s election as the dawn of a new era for South Africa, inspired by the legacy of former president Nelson Mandela. But Mthembu also used his Sona debate speech to lobby for several priority areas that the ANC believes parliament should focus on.
“Parliament cannot continue to be treated as a government department, while it is an arm of the state. We are thus calling for a review of the funding methodology for all three arms of the state, wherein funding for parliament is not dependent on the very same executive arm of the state it ought to be conducting oversight on,” Mthembu said.
He also called for a review of the role the State Security Agency (SSA) plays in the national legislature and asked members of parliament to ensure that fruitless and wasteful expenditure by government departments are brought to an end.
“These monies wasted by careless and corrupt people in government could have gone towards funding free higher education for the poor. Parliament must finalise legislation to give the Auditor General motive to decisively deal with those who waste our government money,” Mthembu said to loud applause from ANC and opposition MPs.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane began his speech by saying he felt proud of Ramaphosa’s Sona address.
“It felt good to be a member of this august house with its dignity restored. It felt good to be a member of the opposition knowing that our efforts over the last ten years have not been in vein,” he said.
But Maimane said now that South Africa has a new president, all parties must begin work to fix the country’s “broken” government. He said this should begin by giving up on the National Health Insurance scheme, which Ramaphosa said would finally be implemented under his watch.
Maimane said the NHI is unaffordable, and warned it would lead to a skills exodus.
“NHI undermines our excellent healthcare sector. It will cause an exodus of SA’s brilliant doctors and nurses who are in demand around the world. And it is, whether we like it or not, completely unaffordable.”
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema said his party had agreed to give Ramaphosa a chance.
But the EFF were not impressed by the new president’s Sona. Instead, Malema said, the Sona proved that Ramaphosa did not have a plan to fix the country and would instead rely on calling summits for jobs, investment and social services to find a plan.
“President, we are saying to you, you are doing all of this because you know that you’ll be a president for 12 months. You are effectively saying to South Africa, there’s nothing I can do in the next 12 months because I will be looking for plans from commissions. And after 12 months, I will be gone. Indeed you will be gone,” Malema said.