Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen MP, during the State of the Nation (SONA) Debate in the National Assembly this afternoon.
Last week, under the protection of a phalanx of security, behind an impenetrable ring of steel and barbed wire thrown around this parliament, watched over by a Praetorian guard of over 441 military personnel armed with assault rifles and combat fatigues, in a precinct that pushed the people further away from their parliament than ever before, in an environment of heightened fear and intimidation of the opposition and the media by the jackboot state, and under the watchful glare of a power hungry Speaker determined to protect her party President instead of the people’s parliament, this President stood before the nation and described a land so far removed from the reality of life lived by ordinary South Africans that you were left wondering if it was possible for one man to be so detached from the lived experience of our people.
It was truly bizarre to hear the President outlining plans that sounded like he was an opposition leader running against his own government than the leader of a party in power for 22 years.
How disappointing it must have been for each of the 9 million South Africans sitting at home without work, desperate for a glimmer of hope that things will get better. All they were served was a dish of more high rhetoric, more empty promises and yet another year of despair to add to the eight previous years of the Zuma Presidency.
And that’s why when he droned on, in that same monotonous monotone, he put his own benches to sleep and made his nation weep. His members slept because they know, just as the nation does, that he will never deliver. The nation wept because they knew that these were just words on a page written by the Luthuli house apparatchiks, going through the motions. Just like “jobs, jobs, jobs,” just like the “9 point plan” and just like the “NDP.”
Nothing will come of the speech, it was little more than cynically crafted subterfuge for the backstory of state capture, of corruption, of failing parastatals, of manipulation of processes and tenders of crony enrichment to continue uninterrupted – because this is a self-serving President who long stopped caring about the people.
What was there for the young graduate who walks the streets every day with his CV looking for work that has door after door closed to his dreams, yet who still burns with hope for the job that will reward him for his efforts, a job that will allow him to afford a house in a safe neighborhood where he can raise his family? Nothing.
What was there for the young school leaver who can’t afford to go to tertiary education and has no chance of obtaining the skills for a job destined to join the ever-growing ranks of the lost generation? Nothing.
How disappointing it must have been for all those who placed their trust in you, Mr. President, to deliver them from their suffering. Not only have you broken faith with the Constitution, you have broken faith with the people.
It was also not surprising that the President had to bring his army with him to Parliament, he knew that he couldn’t win the debate with the force of his argument, so instead he sought to win it with a show of force. This is what desperate dictators do when they run out of credibility, they hide from the people behind lines of troops with guns and armoured cars.
Analysts watching the SONA have been debating for days why the President giggled like a schoolgirl while the violent scenes unfolded in this house last Thursday. Some have proposed it was a nervous response.
Those of us who witnessed at close quarters could see it was anything but. The President was clearly relishing the brutal beating and the awful sounds of flesh on bone, breaking benches and the wails of terrified women in pain. Only a true tyrant would derive enjoyment watching those opponents elected to exercise oversight over him being dealt with like this.
But, as disappointed as those citizens must have been with the President’s speech last Thursday, this disappointment must have been amplified by their disappointment with their party, who this week and last, have shown that they too have become nothing more than willing supplicants to this one man. So petty and partisan, so uncaring that they couldn’t even accede to a simple request for a moment of silence for the Esidemeni 94 who died through the indifference and neglect of an ANC administration, and how disappointed they must be in the speakers fielded by this uncaring, unresponsive, arrogant and inward-looking lot who spoke today.
And so we say to the people of South Africa – it doesn’t have to be like this, there is a party that knows that you worry about your future every day, that knows you and your family go to bed hungry far too often and that knows that as hard as you try you just can’t find work.
We know that your dream of that fair chance to get ahead and improve your life and that you dream every day of the job that will bring in money and which rewards you fairly for your work and we know that you dream of a home with electricity and running water where you can raise your family.
And know this,
South Africa can have an inclusive, fair economy that is growing and creating jobs.
South Africa can have water, electricity, homes and most importantly, dignity for our people.
South Africa can have excellent schools that feed into a tertiary and skills development system that creates real opportunity.
We can have this and so much more but you’re going to have to be the change that forces the spring. This ANC has failed you, this parliament has failed you, but what you need is a party that gets up every single day to fight your corner.
The DA under Mmusi Maimane is that party so help us to vote this moribund lot out so that you can have a government that really is on your side. A government that fights for growth not Guptas, that brings jobs not jets, that brings dignity not despair. You’ve given us the keys to the metros, it’s time to give us the keys to the Union buildings in 2019,
That fight starts now!