Parliament - While political parties in South Africa's Parliament have welcomed a decision by the national legislature's presiding officers to postpone the state-of-the-nation address (SONA), they're still demanding that President Jacob Zuma not be the man to address the nation on government's priorities for the next year.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) secretary-general and MP Godrich Gardee was among the political party whips who were present at a meeting with Parliament's presiding officers on Tuesday ahead of an announcement that SONA would be postponed in the light of political developments in the country.
"We reiterate our call for a motion of no confidence to be convened before any state-of-the-nation address as long as Mr Zuma remains president...," said Gardee.
The EFF's motion of no confidence in Zuma has been scheduled for February 22, but the party is insistent that this be brought forward and debated before SONA. The party has threatened to disrupt Zuma's speech, should he deliver the SONA.
Gardee was not hopeful that the fact that the national executive committee (NEC) of Zuma's own party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), is set to discuss his future on Wednesday would lead to the president stepping down.
"He's going to defy his own political party and he's not going to resign and, accordingly, any SONA is not going to proceed until this motion of no confidence debate is going to be convened," said Gardee.
Speaker Baleka Mbete conceded that though the decision to postpone SONA was mainly taken to protect it from disruption, she and her presiding officers had also taken into account the political climate.
"We are not just looking at logistical arrangements. We are looking to stakeholders, political stakeholders, members of society from different sectors, concerns being raised in the political environment and all of this has to come into effect in influencing our understanding of the seriousness of the situation...," said Mbete.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu would not be drawn on possible links between the postponement of the annual SONA and Wednesday's meeting of the NEC.
"Ask me about caucus, don't ask me about the national executive committee," said Mthembu.
John Steenhuisen, chief whip of the country's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the postponement signalled that Zuma's days as president were numbered.
"I think we're seeing the end game of the Zuma presidency...the last days of Mr Zuma's tenure in Parliament...I'm happy that this great institution [Parliament] has been spared the the terrible indignity of what a farce a Zuma SONA would have been," Steenhuisen said.
Steenhuisen said the haste with which the ANC was trying to get rid of Zuma pointed to ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and other leaders fearing the consequences of another Zuma SONA.
"I think what's happened is the Ramaphosa crowd were very worried about what Mr Zuma was going to do, terrified he'd saddle them with what he did in December with the fees, may well saddle them with nuclear, expropriation without compensation. I think they [ANC leaders] are trying to avoid Mr Zuma defining the narrative of the next year."
Read more: ANC, DA welcome #SONA2018 postponement
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh said Parliament's presiding officers - also ANC deployees - should be congratulated for protecting the dignity of the legislature.
"The country at large and all opposition parties have been raising concerns that if President Zuma had addressed SONA there would be unnecessary challenges in terms of the decorum of Parliament, chaos and the presiding officers have done a great job in meeting with the President and convincing him that it was in the best interests of Parliament as an institution that we postpone SONA and that we hold it at an appropriate time at a much more conducive environment," said Singh.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald was a bit more cynical and questioned the timing of the announcement that SONA would be postponed.
"As far as I'm concerned the writings and letters from opposition parties to the Speaker has now been misused as a smokescreen by the governing party to cover up their own inability to resolve their internal problems," Groenewald said.
Mbete said when they met with Zuma to propose a postponement, he agreed saying that he was about to write to them to propose the very same thing.
African News Agency/ANA