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SONA 2016 expectations

By Danielle van Wyk

Ahead of one of the biggest weeks in South African politics with the address of the much-anticipated annual State of the Nation Address (SONA), predictions are rampant. We take a brief look at some of the heat surrounding last year’s address, and some of the key issues that are expected to be highlighted this year.

SONA 2015

Last year’s SONA can pretty much be summed up in one phrase, that served as the headline of a Daily Maverick article post proceedings, ‘the day the country broke.’ With the over expenditure surrounding Nkandla being the eventual catalyst in a series of chaotic events.

The Economic Freedom Front (EFF), under the leadership of Julius Malema, began raising the question of ‘when the president would pay back the money?’ This saw security violently descending on EFF Members of Parliament (MPs) and eventually removing them from the chamber. The Democratic Alliance (DA) in opposition to the way the incident was handled on the part of the ANC, staged a walk out. Followed by United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People and Agang.

In addition, there was the issue of the installed jamming device. This was reportedly “installed to scramble all cellular networks to block all communications. This meant that journalists were unable to put out information to the world about what was happening in the House.”

SONA 2016

In a release, last week, the Presidency stated:Preparations are proceeding well within the national executive of government for the 2016 State of the Nation Address (SONA), which will be delivered by President Jacob Zuma on 11 February 2016 during the Joint Sitting of Parliament in Cape Town.

“The SONA will be delivered under the theme “Together We Move South Africa Forward”, which is government’s core message until 2019.”

Given the dire economic situation in the country, they went further in stating that the Lekgotla and SONA are expected to focus strongly on the economy. “Especially the national response to the slow economic growth and a highly constrained fiscal environment.”

DebtBusters, South Africa’s largest debt management company, stressed that “2016 needs to be the year that focuses on unemployment, education and over-indebtedness as the foundation to increasing the country’s economic prospects.”
This in light of statistics released in July of last year, indicating that 25.5% of South Africans are unemployed.

Zuma met with business leaders last night where an eight point plan was presented to assist the country in averting a credit downgrade. The suggestion for the inclusion of an acceptance of tax increases in Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech later this month, was made.

“Thatis an increase in value-added tax or the fuel levy rather than those that harm economic growth and investment. An increase in the marginal tax rates for wealthy individuals is also accepted as part of the plan,” highlighted Business Day.

The question on everyone’s lips now is what the outcome will be in SONA and the budget speech, later this month.

A year later, however, and the Nkandla debacle also remains high on the political agenda, as the matter is being heard in the Constitutional Court this week. This after President Jacob Zuma announced last week that he would be paying back a portion of the money.

EFF

The EFF have rejected Zuma’s offer to pay back a portion of the money. Reports stated: “Malema wants Zuma to implement remedial action within 60 days and demands the president to declare the source of the money he will use to pay.”

A mass march, led by the EFF, is set to take place on Tuesday to the Constitutional Court. This in aid of the call for Zuma to step down and the Gupta family to leave the country, as they are “tired of corruption.”

In addition, they demanded that Zuma give answers to the recent firing of ex-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, late last year. Malema warned that failure on Zuma’s part to do so before the address would result in chaos.

DA

The DA similarly have taken to rejecting Zuma’s proposed plan to pay back a portion of the money, but have said that they will not be part of any disruptions on the evening.

“Though we expect more of the same, the President must be afforded the opportunity to deliver his address, which sets the tone for the year ahead. As the DA we have held the position that if Parliament collapses, the President gets off scot-free.

Accountability is a long and detailed process. What is achieved by disrupting the state of the nation address?” said Mabine Seabe, spokesperson to the leader of the DA.

The party further added that in view of SONA 2015, many of the outlined plans had not been met. “There’s a lot which has not been fulfilled. Look at the poor state of the economy for instance, the quality of the matric results and the number of students who fall out of the system before completing matric, the time it takes to pay service providers…

“The list of broken promises is endless. This just shows how important it is for Parliament to function, because this is the institution which is mandated to hold the President and his Executive accountable for what’s done and that which is not done,” stated Seabe.

Ahead of the 2016 address, he added that “2016 is a critical year for South Africa, not only because of the Local Government Elections, but also because of the state of the economy and the mismanagement of it by President Jacob and the ANC.

“So as the Democratic Alliance, we would like to see a strong emphasis on policies and decisions that will lead to economic growth and job creation. Last week, the DA presented a proposal for cutting the number of Cabinet Ministries down to 15 in order to get government working more efficiently and in a way that brings government closer to the people.”

The expectancy is also high around an address on the issue of the economy and jobs. “We need to ensure that we have a strong and inclusive economy, which grows at a rate conducive to job creation. The country also needs to get a handle on crime, which negatively affects all communities. Education is key, access to higher education needs to be funded, so we do not see the continued disruption of teaching and learning,” Seabe explained.

Freedom Front Plus (FF+)

In accordance with the DA, the FF+ has stated that they have no plans to disrupt the proceedings.

“To disrupt the SONA ensures publicity for the relevant political party which carries out these acts, but does not contribute to the general image of South Africa.

“Where such a political party may gain an advantage within South Africa from such disruptions, it causes great damage to the reputation of South Africa internationally. Investors in the international community are asking whether South Africa has become a ‘banana republic’ after Mandela. Disrupting Parliament strengthens that image and does not contribute to building confidence in South Africa,” stated South African politician and the leader of the FF+Dr. Pieter Mulder.

When asked about the FF+’s stance on the Nkandla issue, Mulder responded: “It is in the interest of South Africa that the Nkandla debacle is resolved. There is no doubt about it that the President had personally gained from certain of the Nkandla upgrades.

“That he had not asked for it, is disputable, but it does not detract from the fact that he has personally gained from it. The amount he has to repay should be determined. In addition, the Constitutional Court should give clarity about the powers of the Public Protector, so that the recommendations of the office of the Public Protector will in future not be ignored by a Minister or President, or whomever.”

In a similar vein to the expectances of the DA, the FF+ are hoping to see Zuma announce that certain policy approaches do not work and will be amended to encourage job-creation and economic growth.

“Because it is an election year this year, the President may choose to use popular themes such as racism and land in his speech, with the forthcoming elections in mind. Hopefully, he will be sensible about these themes and not try and be popular with irresponsible comments,” added Mulder.

The address

Parliament, through their spokesperson, Luzuko Jacobs, have said that there are no plans of utilizing a jamming device this year. On the potential disruptions, he also added that: “Members are not 'controlled'. There are rules which members 

“Members have been made aware of the new Rules for Joint Sitting which were adopted on 26 November. Journalists were also been notified at the media briefing last week.”

*The African National Congress (ANC) and the EFF had failed to respond to the request for comment at the time of publication. 

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