Hendri Pelser
4 minute read
11 Feb 2021
9:07 pm

Sona 2021 First Take: Ramaphosa’s ‘empty’ words to an ‘empty’ Parliament?

Hendri Pelser

When Parliament is empty, who represents the voters? The Executive at their pleasure?

The National Assembly. Picture: GCIS

The last year has been one of many addresses by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.

In many of these he did not say much of substance… In many others, he spoke true, bold words.

Normally, the annual State of the Nation (Sona) address would kick off the Parliamentary programme to a packed chamber of MPs, dignitaries and notable citizens.

ALSO READ: Sona 2021: ‘A time for change’ Ramaphosa declares as millions of vaccine doses secured

This year, it was a little different.

This year, Sona took place in a mostly empty chamber.

The chamber has been empty for almost a year. And it will continue to remain empty for some time.

Not just empty of MPs debating, causing a ruckus, or heckling. Empty of any actual oversight over the Executive or government at large.

The day before Ramaphosa took to the podium, his cabinet extended the State of Disaster yet again.

When this one expires, Parliament would have spent a year on the back burner (on full pay by the way).

Click here to visit The Citizen’s home page for more coverage of Sona 2021

And, you can expect this “new normal” to continue for some time to come.

Ramaphosa gave a strong hint to this as he attempted to justify his government’s response to the pandemic and made a point to list some of the so-called interventions they made to save the country.

Interventions that took place without much, if any, oversight.

If it had not been for these interventions, the narrative goes, things would have been much, much worse.

Leading with that logic, the vast powers bestowed upon the Executive by the State of Disaster is needed for them to continue their noble fight.

READ MORE: Sona 2021: More than R57bn paid out to 4.5m workers during pandemic

And they will continue to do so. For how long, no one knows. This is simply not democracy in action. Even in a pandemic.

Yes, some interventions were necessary. Some, most definitely not.

However, it is during the most difficult times, when options seem few, and mostly impossible, that true character shines through. And as cliché as it is, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

After 11 months of ruling by the sway of a pen on a government gazette, you can bet that our democracy is in peril.

Are there several elements of our society that needs to change urgently? Yes, of course.

Is it the cabinet’s prerogative of how this happens? Not a chance.

It is Parliament’s. Parliament represents the people. Not the Executive.

During his address Ramaphosa told Parliament that a new anti corruption body will be established and that it will report to said National Assembly and not the Executive.

ALSO READ: Sona 2021: Eskom will still fall short of power capacity over next five years

Let that just sink in for a minute. Great – we really need to root out corruption in this country as soon as possible.

However, he told Parliament what would happen. He told them. Did not ask them. He told them what would happen.

It is not the President’s prerogative to tell Parliament anything. Anything what soever.

As brilliant as the proposed intervention is, the way it is being done, or being communicated, it is wrong.

And, it shows how the power has shifted from Parliament to the Executive as they flex their State of Disaster power.

This is clearly not democracy in action. In any way, shape or form.

In any other year, I would have applauded this speech as it contained a number of clear plans, interventions and initiatives.

His Number One predecessor used to waffle through this part of the proceedings repeating old, old promises (Ramaphosa included a few of these himself…).

It is the role of a leader to look into the future and to ensure that one paves the way for a better, more sustainable, and more profitable tomorrow.

READ MORE: Sona 2021: New anti-corruption body coming, reporting to Parliament

However, democracy in South Africa was hard won and should never, ever, be given up for a second.

Autocratic tendencies have been on the increase globally for a number of years and the coronavirus pandemic has only created a more fertile ground for these leanings.

Democracy, true accountable democracy, must be defended at all cost.

Especially during a once in a 100 year crisis.

Hendri Pelser is The Citizen’s Acting Digital Editor. 

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