President Cyril Ramaphosa was mildly heckled by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) during his State Of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday as he tried to outline the government’s plan to deal with state capture.
Ramaphosa’s address was running smoothly until he broached the emotive topic.
With acting chief justice and commission chair Raymond Zondo looking on during the address at Cape Town City Hall, Ramaphosa tried to paint a picture of the extent of state capture as revealed by the first two of three reports on the matter that have so far been released by Zondo.
As members of his governing ANC clapped and cheered while Ramaphosa outlined how public institutions and state-owned enterprises had been infiltrated by “a criminal network” intent on looting private money for public gain, EFF and Democratic Alliance MPs retorted that these criminals were, in fact, ANC members.
“The reports have detailed the devastating effects of this criminal activity on SAA, Transnet, Denel, [the] South African Revenue Service and government communications.
State capture had a direct and very concrete negative impact on the lives of all South Africans, but especially the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society,” the president said.
Ramaphosa said state capture had weakened the ability of the state to deliver services and meet the expectations and constitutional rights of South Africans, adding that his responsibility was to ensure that the Zondo commission report was properly and carefully considered — and then acted upon.
But even as he sought to reassure legislators that the report would be delivered to the national assembly by no later than 30 June and that he would act on the recommendations made, opposition MPs jeered; one of the few occasions in which Ramaphosa has been heckled while addressing parliament since he took office in early 2018.
The president said relevant law-enforcement agencies were taking the necessary steps to address the immediate concern about the safety of whistleblowers who had exposed the corruption, to which opposition party members shouted: “Are you sure?”
Ramaphosa insisted that individuals and companies found to have been responsible for state capture would be held to account.
“I have every confidence that the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] will carry out the further investigations that the commission has recommended, and that it will bring the members of the criminal network that infiltrated the government and captured the state swiftly to justice,” he said.
“The Investigating Directorate in the National Prosecuting Authority is now poised to deliver on its crucial mandate, and a dedicated team has been established to pursue these cases,” Ramaphosa added.
To this, opposition party members again shouted: “Are you sure?”
Critics are sceptical about whether Ramaphosa will actually act against ANC members implicated in the state capture report. These include some of his most powerful allies, Gwede Mantashe, Jeff Radede, Siphiwe Nyanda and Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Ramaphosa also encountered mild jeering from opposition MPs as he made reference to last July’s unrest, triggered by the jailing of his predecessor Jacob Zuma for contempt of court after he refused to obey a court order to come and testify before the Zondo commission.
Ramaphosa said the response to the July looting and vandalism in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng displayed a deeply disturbing picture of the country’s security services and structures that exist to co-ordinate their work.
The Zondo report found that police operational planning was poor, as was the co-ordination between state and law enforcement. Opposition leaders again interjected disparagingly as Ramaphosa outlined how the report had found that cabinet must take responsibility for the July unrest.
The president said this was a responsibility that the cabinet acknowledged and accepted, adding that it would develop a national response to weaknesses the panel had identified.
As Ramaphosa spoke, some MP’s were heard shouting: “Resign!”