Daily Maverick 07 February 2019
Ahead of the 2019 State of the Nation Address, all manner of disruptions were anticipated. The EFF being forcibly removed for protesting over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s acceptance of a donation from Bosasa. The DA walking out in protest over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s acceptance of a donation from Bosasa. But precisely nothing happened: a ceasefire moment that Ramaphosa’s administration will surely claim as a victory.
It was as hot a SONA day as it’s ever been, with temperatures climbing towards 40 degrees Celsius within the parliamentary precinct. The weather was enough to turn even the most equable soul grumpy. What would it do to South Africa’s notoriously volatile MPs?
Nothing, it turned out.
MPs were – relatively speaking – on their best behaviour as they queued for the red carpet entrance to Parliament’s National Assembly in their annual finery.
The colours of this season, Daily Maverick can now report, are gold, yellow, and green.
And red, of course. EFF MPs arrived in a characteristic flurry of noise and action, singing and dancing in their trademark red overalls and domestic workers’ uniforms.
For anyone wondering which designer the Fighters were favouring, MP Sam Matiase had some further fashion-related details.
“EFF’s work suit for SONA tonight is made from a rare material, proudly made, designed, brought from the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho,” Matiase tweeted.
“In crimson red, the colour and symbol of proletarian sacrifices, we believe and shall conquer. There is no task too small nor sacrifice too big.”
When inside the National Assembly, the EFF MPs revealed T-shirts underneath their sacrificial symbols with the slogan: “Lands and Jobs Now”.
DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia followed their lead in using his outfit to make a political statement, donning a fetching sash printed with the words: “Not Paid For By Bosasa”.
That was one of two attempted protest actions undertaken by the blue party on the day. Hours before SONA, the DA erected a banner outside the party’s parliamentary offices. It featured a picture of Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa together, with the words: “Same State of No Action. Same WhatsApp Group.”
The Secretary of Parliament ordered the party to take it down, prompting an angry statement from the DA claiming that censorship was at work.
But in other respects Parliament encouraged SONA’s visitors to express themselves, with communications staff carrying around a large cardboard frame that fun-lovers could use as a selfie prop.
That was a touch of levity which was absent from the streets outside Parliament, where officious cops threw up a ring of steel stretching for several blocks. As has become a familiar sight at SONA, snipers were positioned on the roofs of buildings within the parliamentary precinct.
The airforce band played Boyz II Men’s End Of The Road while Ramaphosa’s arrival was awaited. It would be nice to think the song choice was a coded message to those politicians named at the Zondo Commission, but anyone hoping for some dramatic red carpet arrests by the Hawks was in for disappointment.
Haunting the red carpet, however, was the ghost of the perennially fashionable former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and his almost equally glamorous wife Norma: gone, but not forgotten.
Also missing was thrift-shop fan Helen Zille, who normally arrives in the National Assembly in procession with the other provincial Premiers. On this occasion Zille had passed the baton to acting Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, with Zille being out of the country on a visit to Germany, possibly researching tax revolts.
But the most notable absence of the evening was that of the former Number One, Jacob Zuma. The former presidents in attendance were Kgalema Motlanthe and a cartoonishly grumpy-looking Thabo Mbeki.
The arrival of Ramaphosa and the First Lady brought an end to the red carpet pomp and a beginning to the serious business of the evening.
As Ramaphosa began to speak, many waited in vain for the signature cry of the EFF: “Point of order, Madame Speaker”.
It never came. Instead, in a diplomatic masterstroke, Ramaphosa grasped the nettle immediately by poking gentle fun at both EFF leader Julius Malema and DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Ramaphosa said he had bumped into both Malema and Maimane “by accident” the previous day, and had come to an arrangement with both men.
“If the EFF wins the elections, and [Malema] is installed as the President of South Africa, he will invite me to come onstage and sing for him,” Ramaphosa said, to roars of laughter – and accompanying chuckles from Malema.
As for Maimane: “I recruited him to become part of the band we are going to form,” said Ramaphosa.
Maimane shook his head ruefully and mouthed: “No”.
It wasn’t quite “Thuma Mina”, but it got things off to a jolly start.