Cape Town-140218-Political parties respond to the SONA. President Jacob Zuma right and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe listen.  Picture Jeffrey Abrahams
Cape Town-140218-Political parties respond to the SONA. President Jacob Zuma right and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe listen. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams
Cape Town-140218-Political parties respond to the SONA. DA leader in parly Lindiwe Mazibuko  Picture Jeffrey Abrahams
Cape Town-140218-Political parties respond to the SONA. DA leader in parly Lindiwe Mazibuko Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Cape Town -

Opposition parties did not spare the rod to lash President Jacob Zuma and his administration for failures on job creation, fighting corruption and, generally, for bad leadership which they said left the ANC a pale shadow of its former liberation movement self.

In a four-hour debate on Zuma’s State of the Nation address and marked by pre-election politicking and political sparring across the floor, it was left to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to spin the ANC line of “telling the good story” into a dig at the opposition parties’ general approach.

While government spending targeted formerly disadvantaged universities, but still looked after all institutions, Nzimande argued opposition parties pursued factional interests: the UDM was only interested in the Mthatha campus of the Walter Sisulu University, the IFP in the University of Zululand and the DA, depending on whether they were from the old Democratic Party or the National Party, were interested in UCT, Wits, Stellenbosch University and the University of Johannesburg.

“This is the poverty and and bankruptcy of our opposition. Only the ANC cares about our national interests,” Nzimande said.

However, the SACP boss had to take as good as he gave.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa thanked Zuma for deploying Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane instead of Nzimande to resolve last year’s strike crisis at the Mthatha campus because “that confused communist was busy at a certain rehabilitation centre to deal with his addiction to a certain whiskey product”.

Following a point of order, Holomisa withdrew the off-the-cuff comment and moved on to his scripted speech, outlining consumer pressures, social tension and distrust, strained industrial relations and poor economic policy choices which he said had left millions of South Africans without services and lacking positive political leadership.

“The most painful irony is that of a former liberation movement that espoused egalitarian principles during the struggle years... to preside over the most grotesque and ever-worsening levels of inequality,” Holomisa said.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi earlier also argued that in today’s South Africa “Marikana”, “scandal” and “corruption” had replaced “rainbow nation”, “reconciliation” and “freedom”.

“The leadership of our country under your watch is a far cry from the leadership of 20 years ago...

“Under your watch, the ANC has become a caricature of its former self, almost unrecognisable as the old liberation movement that helped us usher in democracy. Under your watch, Mr President, dignity has shuffled off the stage of politics, following the quiet exit of integrity.”

“I say here in the House what South Africans are thinking: ‘How far have we fallen from Mandela’s South Africa?’ ”

Azapo MP Koti Dikobo also highlighted rising inequality and pointed out the series of scandals, from Guptagate to Nkandlagate. “The less said about your commitment to fight corruption, the better,” Dikobo said.

It was up to Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, the sweeper, or last person to speak in a debate, to reassert that the ANC today remained the ANC of Nelson Mandela, saying Madiba was with it in the House today, regardless of what some “neo-liberals”, a reference to the DA, wanted to argue.

Earlier, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana reminded MPs that Mandela was sitting in an ANC branch in heaven and had paid his membership fees through the royalties his will bequeathed to the ANC.

But Pandor reserved stinging criticism for Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota, whom she called “a false prophet”, and unable to lead a party without challenge. This came in response to Lekota’s description of Zuma as “a false prophet” for claiming the ANC would rule until Jesus Christ returned, and for invoking the wrath of the ancestors if votes went to any party but the ANC.

Lekota said: “If this was somewhere in the Holy Book, the struggle (against apartheid) would have ended very quickly. Those in (the apartheid) government would have respected the prophesy, and would have stepped down.”

Saying that the ANC would lose its majority in 2019, DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko used her statistics-loaded 19-minute time slot to criticise the government’s job creation performance.

At the root, she said, was the lack of courage to break the stranglehold the ANC’s alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP had over labour policy.

“That is why President Zuma has only managed to create 561 000 out of the five million jobs he promised in 2009. Just one job out of every 10 promised. This is also why there are a staggering 1.4 million more unemployed South Africans today than on the day the honourable president took office in 2009,” she said.

While South Africa was a straggler with less than two percent economic growth, emerging country peers in Africa and elsewhere in the world were growing at more than double that rate.

“Why this great disparity? Because economic growth and job creation require visionary leadership and a single economic plan. South Africa has neither of these,” Mazibuko said.

She vowed to call for Zuma’s impeachment if he was implicated in any wrongdoing in the public protector’s report into Nkandla.

Amanda Gouws, professor of political science at Stellenbosch University, said in response that the DA had been talking about introducing a vote of no confidence for a while, but the ANC would never allow it before the elections.

Equally, Gouws dismissed talk of “impeachment” as “a bit of posturing” by the DA, although she agreed that the 2019 elections could see new electoral trends.

“The ‘born-frees’ will be significant in number, while the liberation generation are dying out,” Gouws pointed out, suggesting many of these young new voters would not necessarily resonate with the “liberation” narrative.

She suspected the Economic Freedom Fighters could garner around 5 percent in this year’s elections. “But Agang has now killed itself, so won’t be achieving 5 percent too,” Gouws predicted. – Additional Reporting by Murray Williams

Cape Argus