President Cyril Ramaphosa wrapped up the debate on his State of the Nation address (Sona) with a conciliatory gesture to Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.
The president’s address to the nation last week, and the two-day debate that followed, often descended into chaos and mudslinging, as MPs used allegations of gender-based violence and personal potshots to undermine each other.
During the State of the Nation address, ANC MP Boy Mamabolo heckled Malema on whether he had ever assaulted his wife, Mantoa Malema.
During Malema’s response to Ramaphosa’s address on Tuesday, he denied the allegations and turned the tables, asking whether rumours that the president had abused his late former wife, Hope, are true.
Malema was ordered to withdraw the remarks and instructed to leave the chamber by National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo.
Apology to Malema
But in his response to the debate on Thursday, Ramaphosa apologised to Malema on behalf of his ANC colleague.
“Malema stood and made an allegation, but before that, an allegation was made against him by a member of the ANC. And as that allegation was made I felt for Mantoa, your wife. It was improper and incorrect to be raised. And if I can offer an apology to you about this, I would like to because it was uncalled for,” Ramaphosa said directly to Malema.
Ramaphosa also denied Malema’s allegations that he had abused his former wife.
“[Malema] raised it in 2017, [saying] the president used to assault his first wife, Hope. Hope Ramaphosa responded and said it is not true … We should not resort to issues like this as it was used against you, to politicise and trivialise an important issue [ gender-based violence],” Ramaphosa said.
Despite the personal point-scoring, Ramaphosa thanked MPs for their “vigorous debate”.
For two days opposition parties lambasted the president’s record of failing to turn around rising unemployment numbers, an electricity-supply crisis and a sluggish economy.
But Ramaphosa said, on the whole, the discussions had been constructive.
“The debate has demonstrated the diversity of views and experiences as people expressed themselves. It has demonstrated the divisions of our land and our body politic. But no matter how fiercely we debate, we remain united in our desire for a better future for all. And that I find heartening,” he said.
The president, in his second year as head of state, said his government is laying a foundation for future prosperity.
“Inclusive growth is about changing people’s lives for the better. While we can use economic jargon and track metrics like GDP [gross domestic product] growth, debt ratios and levels of gross fixed investment, the most important measure of our progress is the impact these efforts should have on the lives of South Africans, especially the poor.”
Ramaphosa responded to the Democratic Alliance’s utterances that he had missed an opportunity to announce the privatisation of Eskom. He said this would not happen.
“Switching off Eskom’s life support would be plunging our country into chaos and darkness. We have a clear road map to restore Eskom’s financial and operational position and to place our entire energy sector on a new trajectory of sustainability,” Ramaphosa said.
Spirit of the Constitution
The president also added his voice to the furore over now-retracted comments by apartheid’s last president, FW De Klerk.
De Klerk had initially rejected the notion that apartheid was a crime against humanity, but later apologised and said he agreed with a United Nations resolution that apartheid was a crime.
The former president had, on several prior occasions, apologised for the oppressive system of legislated segregation.
But, Ramaphosa said denying the cruelty of apartheid goes against the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
“There’s no South African living today not touched by the legacy of apartheid. To deny this, in my view, is treasonous. It can be again said: apartheid was a crime against humanity. It was a crime against the oppressed people, even before it was declared by the United Nations in 1973,” he said.