Focus on FW de Klerk distracted attention from the troubling state of the nation

The democracy disruption by the Economic Freedom Fighters during the State of the Nation address (Sona) and the subsequent debate about apartheid’s last president diverted the public’s attention President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech. 

There was no “substance” to the EFF’s disruptions their action was “poorly planned and badly executed”, political analyst Angelo Fick said at a post-Sona critical thinking forum, hosted by the Mail & Guardian in partnership with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, on Friday in Cape Town.

So we have to be mindful of the fact that [when] we speak of the president you’re speaking of the ANC that has deployed [him] into that stage, right. So I don’t subscribe to the view that we can lay all the blame at his feet. It’s the entire institution that needs to be addressed

Rebecca Sibanda

He said the EFF’s disruptions have become an “expensive sitcom” that plays out annually. “It is the idea of disruption mistaken for actual disruption. It is the idea of rhetorical flourish, mistaken for actual political engagement,” Fick said. 

Analysts at the forum did not have many positive things to say about Ramaphosa’s fourth State of the Nation address. 

For Fick the speech was contradictory and failed to read the mood of the country — and Ramaphosa seemed to make things up as he spoke. 

Another political analyst, Khaya Sithole, said it was not immediately clear what the theme of Ramaphosa’s speech was, but that on deeper inspection it appeared the thrust was about fixing so much of what was wrong with the state. To still be talking about fixing things “is problematic”, he said.  

Rebecca Sibanda, a legal officer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, disagreed, saying it might well be that Ramaphosa has not fixed things in the time that he has been president, but that it is to be expected because he is not an independent entity. With Ramaphosa “deployed” by the ANC, the State of the Nation address is instruction and not his own. 

“So we have to be mindful of the fact that [when] we speak of the president you’re speaking of the ANC that has deployed [him] into that stage, right. So I don’t subscribe to the view that we can lay all the blame at his feet. It’s the entire institution that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Sibanda criticised the president for not speaking about human rights, such as immigration and the refugee crisis in the country. “Those are real, serious issues, real people issues that are not going away,” she said. 

Fick said Ramaphosa’s speech was contradictory in that the president talked about tackling the climate emergency and spoke about creating jobs through the car industry. 

“There is  a contradiction here. If you’re going to be building lots and lots of cars, you are not actually resolving the climate emergency, you’re contributing to it. So your solution for the unemployment problem and your solution or response to mitigate the climate crisis cannot have this kind of logical contradiction,” Fick said.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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