President Cyril Ramaphosa did well in his first question and answer session in the National Assembly as the President of the Republic. Opposition parties had sent him some controversial questions but they were left weakened by the time he was done. While the President had made every effort to come prepared, their responses were such to be desired, from an opposition who claims its ready to govern.
The President presented detailed and well thought through answers. In the main, he relied on his authority of experience rather than his experience of authority, for experience he has. For example, who can argue with him about what the intentions of the writers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the property clause? He was there leading from the front in the 1990’s draft both our Interim and Final Constitution.
Who can dispute his knowledge of the National Development Plan, its contents and intentions when he was there drafting it; first as Deputy Chairperson of the National Planning Commission and then as Chairperson? In fact, the opposition handed him an opportunity on a platter when he indicated to his allies in the Tripartite Alliance that the NDP was not a document cast in stone. It is a living document; as all developmental states blueprints should be. These are signs of robust debate and practicalities of programs that work in society.
The next big topic was mining. As the former Secretary-General of the National Union of Mineworkers, it is difficult to question his experience in the sector. Having worked with miners on the ground, then in the bargaining chambers, then as a unionist for the entire sector and finally now as a miner-owner, President Ramaphosa has a deep understanding of the sector and understands that mining can once again ignite our economic recovery, like we have seen in countries like Australia.
The occasion of questions and answers to the head of State in any democracy is one of the most opportune moments for opposition parties to field their questions, point out the weakness in government policy and present to the electorate themselves as an alternative government. Instead, President Ramaphosa’s first Q&A session displayed his personal mastery at work, he understood his opposition and their tactics and spoke to his audience and there concerns. It is this political prowess that makes President Ramaphosa different from others.
The opposition soon realised that there was a game changer in the House and that there old theatrics was no longer applicable in the current parliament of Ramaphosa. David Maynier MP made a weak statement in the main and then quickly ended off by sneaking in a question about whether the President was paralysed. Casually, in response, the President simply raised his hands and responded he was not paralysed, but then went on to shrewdly and sarcastically indicate to Manyier that, as an MP, he should take the occasion more seriously and use the opportunity to ask more relevant questions affecting ordinary peoples lives in SA, essentially the poor.
The DA realizing their embarrassment, when the EFF fielded their question on the legal costs of former President Zuma, the Leader of the Official Opposition finally jumped to his feet and attempted to hijack the discussion. By now, but as always, he had been overtaken by his erstwhile partner, the leader of the EFF, who claimed that the mayor of Johannesburg was actually the EFF’s mayor. He cannot be challenged because Herman Mashaba is a de facto EFF mayor just as Patricia de Lille is a de facto ANC mayor.
Usually, in politics, one does a press statement about what you have just done. One would therefore have expected the major press statement, released by the DA, to be on the question they had raised in parliament: the expropriation of land without compensation. Yet the party couldn’t quite do this because their mayor, cum-EFF’s mayor, in Johannesburg had promised to expropriate buildings in the CBD without compensation. The President had played the Mashaba card even before hearing from Maimane. In debating, one would have thought that he would allow Maimane to hang himself by arguing forcefully against expropriation of land without compensation and then play the Mashaba card as a rebuttal.
As with his SONA, President Ramaphosa sent a message to all South Africans, including the opposition, that everyone should be doing their bit to get our country working. He reiterated the notion of a social compact, something, again, which he is very familiar with, given his history in the CODESA negotiations. It would seem though that his opponents then were much more prepared than his opponents are now.
The President may be determined to get our country working but it is time that South Africans, the opposition for who they genuinely are, crises driven leaders, their political survival is dependent on a weak ANC, very little in the way of policy alternatives, programs for communities, etc. Come 2019 the opposition parties will find it tough to hoodwink South African’s into believe that the DA or EFF has any credibility and ability to solve our countries challengers.
Faiez Jacobs is the Provincial Secretary of the ANC Western Cape and Muhammad Khalid Sayed in the Provincial Chairperson of the ANC Youth League Western Cape