SONA Watch opinion

SA parliament and sociopolitical stability in serious danger

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 The relevance of South Africa’s parliament is under serious threat and sociopolitical stability close to disintegration after last week’s SONA – and not only President Jacob Zuma is to blame.

Although there can be little doubt that blame for the chaos that again broke out in parliament during the delivery of his State of the Nation Address (SONA) can be laid at the feet of Mr Zuma and his controversial leadership, there were some hopeful signs when he replied to the debate.

His tone was sober and even conciliatory, while he addressed some of the real issues of concern to the majority of the population, especially regarding the state of the economy and the increasing racial tensions in the country. But the question of why he at the end of last year unceremoniously fired the minister of finance remained unaddressed.

Instead he chose to address the issue in an interview with The Financial Times. The day after his reply to the SONA debate he again bypassed parliament and chose a meeting with black professionals to reveal that cabinet revised the country’s fiscal framework in January, after the economic crisis in December triggered by his firing of the finance minister.

On the issue of racism and the resurgence of racial tensions he, in his SONA reply, called on South Africa to fight racism and said he placed as much importance on nation-building as on mending the flagging economy.

The next day, however, the governing ANC took to the streets in Pretoria for what was purported to be a “march against racism,” during which its Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, stoked anti-white feelings.

Besides the, by now standard, blame game played by the ANC in accusing the United States of plotting “regime change”, Mantashe, on several issues – from food security to economic transformation ­– stigmatised whites with references such as “racist (white) farmers organisations”.

He also claimed that the ANC is aware of “people who are out there in a programme of regime change”.

Real basis for unrest

At the same time as the ANC was marching in Pretoria and handing a memorandum to the presidency and blaming racists and the Americans for the country’s woes, in Limpopo the town of Modimolle and its surrounding townships were shut down by protesting residents.

They barricaded the streets with burning tyres and rubble over the lack of provision for the most basic of human needs.

And in Cape Town, Grain South Africa told parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture that South Africans should brace for a tough year ahead as the country was set to import millions of tonnes of grain as a result of low yields brought on by the drought. The organisation also warned about the dangers of a public revolt over food prices.

“We have done a study of what happened in 2007/2008 in the world where the Arab spring took place and there’s some work being done that says there’s a high correlation when you’ve got high food prices and food riots. There’s a big possibility that it could happen in South Africa,” Grain SA’s CEO Jannie De Villiers said.

Not only Zuma to blame

In his regular column in The Daily Maverick, political commentator Stephen Grootes last week rightly warned about what happened in parliament during the SONA, saying that “blaming Zuma for everything” might be “good tactics (but) terrible strategy”.

“In the last two days almost all opposition parties in parliament have vented their collective spleen at President Jacob Zuma. There has been almost no direct criticism of the ANC and much of the criticism has been personal and insulting. On one score, this could work well; Zuma has, after all, provided the opposition with a large stash of ammunition. But in the longer run, this could prove a poor investment. Because Zuma will not be president-of-the-ANC-forever and all this invective could one day bite back,” he wrote.

Judged on what happened in the streets of Pretoria, the ANC has done pretty well to turn the focused attack on Zuma in the minds of its supporters to an attack on the party itself.

What is happening in parliament does very little to placate those who cause havoc in the streets of Modimolle and countless more communities across the country.

In the meantime all the positives of communities reaching out to one another in compassion to alleviate the impact of the drought through initiatives like Operation Hydrate get lost.

There can be no doubt that South Africa’s social cohesion has become a tinder box. It is the responsibility of leaders on all fronts, especially those elected to represent the people, to act in a way that pulls the nation together – if democracy, and society itself, is to survive the troubled times ahead.

Also read:  Challenge of massive restructuring confronts SA economy

                    Do whites have to start fearing for their safety?

by Piet Coetzer

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