Opposition leaders have entered the debate on burning national issues unleashed this week by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Leader of the official opposition Tony Leon demanded on Saturday that parliament "arrange six key debates" on the issues identified by Tutu, who broke his silence over government policy this week in the second annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
The opposition reaction followed President Thabo Mbeki's stinging rebuke on Tutu's stern reprimand that debate inside the ANC was being stifled, while questioning the government's handling of Zimbabwe, black economic empowerment and HIV/Aids.
Mbeki, however, also endorsed an earlier government response which welcomed Tutu's remarks and urged debate around the concerns he highlighted, which the opposition has now seized upon.
The six key issues highlighted in Tutu's speech at the lecture were electoral systems; conflict resolution and foreign policy; national security and arms procurement; social grants and sustainable development; HIV/Aids; and black economic empowerment.
Addressing the Democratic Alliance's Gauteng South Regional Council meeting in Meyerton on Saturday, Leon quoted government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe, who said in response to Tutu's "thought provoking" lecture: "Government wishes to encourage South Africans to take up the issues that Archbishop Tutu raised... which can only be healthy for our democracy".
Leon said: "The DA wishes to take the ANC government at its word by debating these six issues in parliament, among the elected representatives of the people of South Africa. We believe that President Mbeki should open each of these debates."
He has already written to the Speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, requesting her to arrange the debates for next year.
On Tuesday, Tutu issued a stern warning that black economic empowerment was benefiting only a small elite, while South Africa was "sitting on a powder keg" of poverty.
He also had strong words against those who failed to openly debate and challenge Mbeki's controversial views on HIV and Aids, arguing that South Africa was "a democracy and not a dictatorship".
While at pains to point out that the country had taken great strides in the first 10 years of democracy, Tutu said the culture of vigorous debate which had characterised the anti-apartheid movement seemed to have given way to servile, self-seeking flattery.
This was partly due to the country's electoral system, which, he said, effectively silenced many politicians who did not want to be seen to be challenging their parties because it was profitable to be on a party list.
Mbeki welcomed Tutu's call for rational discussion.
Mbeki said the government had "consistently" worked to encourage two-way debate with the public and denied a stifling of debate within the ruling alliance.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said her party wants more than debate on key national issues that affect the poor.
"We've always called for open debate, but poverty is the responsibility of all of us and we need a consensus-seeking process over and above debate," De Lille said.
Selby Khumalo, National Media Director of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), pointed out that Tutu's remarks were along similar lines to Cosatu's recent criticism of the government and that Mbeki's claim that Tutu was not aware of the debate within the ANC was too harsh.
"South Africa needs a lot of Bishop Tutus, prophets of our time," he said.