Debate on the President`s State of the Nation Address by the Chief Whip of the ANC in parliament cde Pemmy Majodina
25 June 2019
This debate on the first State of the Nation Address in the sixth term of Parliament comes soon after we, the members of Parliament have taken the oath or affirmation to obey, respect and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
As the majority party, the African National Congress accepts the mandate to lead government in dealing with the complex challenges our country faces and to achieve a better life for all. We have accepted this responsibility with humility, knowing that our people have embraced our election manifesto, which they helped to shape.
We believe that as we begin our work in the sixth Parliament, we need to set the tone for the next five years during this debate. We must assert quite boldly that this is a new term and that, while there is continuity in many respects, there will be change.
Our President, the Head of State and Government of the Republic of South Africa, has acknowledged quite candidly the enormity of the challenges facing our country, our Continent and our World.
The economy has not been growing at the rate that is required to address all the social needs of our people. Unemployment remains high, particularly among the youth. Our country endures unacceptable levels of income and wealth inequality. Inequality has been proven in studies internationally to be the single most important driver of violent crime and social instability. It is therefore in the interest of all South Africans that we take decisive measures to deal with poverty, unemployment and widening inequality in our country.
Parliament must focus on the strengthening of the democratic state. We need a state that is developmental, effective and clean. A state that is embedded in networks with social partners, but at the same time autonomous and not susceptible to capture. We expect that public servants will work with speed and agility, without compromising good governance principles.
Principles the ANC will assert in the 6th Term
It is imperative that as we start our journey as the 6th Parliament, we all understand our roles which are clearly defined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. We are raising this matter based on the concerns that our people have expressed in our interactions with them over the past few months. Our people have said that they want this Parliament to be about them and their needs and not about politicians. Indeed, the people have given us a mandate to restore the dignity and decorum of this institution.
I therefore want to foreground my input with some fundamental principles that will guide the work of the ANC in this term. The first principle is that we will work tirelessly to restore the integrity and esteem with which Parliament is held by all the people of South Africa. We believe that the responsibility placed by the Constitution on Parliament requires that we conduct ourselves in accordance with the highest standard of values and principles.
The sovereignty of the State in countries around the world is derived from different sources. In military dictatorships, the army general staff embodies the sovereignty of the State. In monarchies, the King or Queen wields the ultimate authority of the State. In theocracies, the Church represents the sovereign. In South Africa, the Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic. Any law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.
I wish to remind all of us and the public who are following this debate about the responsibilities of Parliament in terms of the Constitution. The Chief Justice in 2016 eloquently articulated the role and power of Parliament in a unanimous Constitutional Court judgement I would like to quote:
“…Parliament, is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered. It is the watchdog of State resources, the enforcer of fiscal discipline and cost-effectiveness for the common good of all our people. It fulfils a pre-eminently unique role of holding the Executive accountable for the fulfilment of the promises made to the populace through the State of the Nation Address, budget speeches, policies, legislation and the Constitution…”
As the ANC, we wish to appeal to all the members of this institution to uphold the Constitution by ensuring that Parliament is able to fulfil its constitutional obligations without fear, favour or prejudice.
The second principle we want to assert is an appreciation and respect by all us for the Office of the President. Once again I want to lean on the same Constitutional Court judgement to remind us what the Office of the President represents in terms of the Constitution. The Court said:
“The President is the Head of State and Head of the national Executive… The promotion of national unity and reconciliation falls squarely on his shoulders… To him the executive authority of the entire Republic is primarily entrusted. He initiates and gives the final stamp of approval to all national legislation… He is a constitutional being by design, a national pathfinder, the quintessential commander-in-chief of State affairs and the personification of this nation’s constitutional project.”
We want to make a case to the members of Parliament and the people of South Africa that in our conduct, we must accord respect to the Office of the President as fulfilment of an important constitutional obligation. Let me hasten to emphasise that we are not raising this matter in order to restrict criticism of the Executive or to suppress robust debate in Parliament. Neither are we raising this principle in relation to the incumbent occupying the Office.
There is a difference between robust debate on the one hand; and the undermining of a person’s human dignity and denigration of a Constitutional office on the other. In fact, the very first founding principle of the Republic of South Africa and the first right protected by the Constitution under the Bill of Rights is the value of human dignity. We come from a painful past in which the dignity of the majority of our people was assaulted daily by a system of racial and patriarchal oppression.
We therefore appeal to the members of Parliament that in the manner we address the President and members of the Executive, we accord them the right to human dignity and respect for their offices. Equally, we expect that the Executive will reciprocate that respect to Parliament and honour its obligations to this institution, as we are equal arms of the State.
The third principle I want to articulate is the respect for the democratic mandate given to us by the people of South Africa. We have been elected on the basis of the manifestos of our political parties. However, there is one political party that the overwhelming majority of South African citizens have elected to form government. That party is the African National Congress.
We are confident that all the parties represented here do respect the outcome of the democratic elections and will allow us the space to govern; while they play their role to hold our government to account. If some among us wish to undermine the Constitution by rendering Parliament ungovernable, or vilifying the institutions of our democratic State, we will take decisive measures to strengthen legislation and the rules of Parliament in order to protect these institutions of our people.
As the ANC, we are committed to ensure that the voices of all our constituencies are heard. ANC members are committed to become once again the tribunes of the people. The structures and systems of our Parliament must reflect an outlook of an activist Parliament. We need to find new and better ways for organized people to come to public hearings.
Leadership of society
With a track record that spurns over a century, the African National Congress has proven itself that it is the only movement capable of galvanising all our people around a vision of the future. During difficult moments in our history, the ANC has boldly taken the mettle of leadership and come up with Umkhombandlela (“the way forward”).
It was this movement, Umbutho Wesizwe that led the campaign that culminated in the adoption of the Freedom Charter at the historical Congress of the People in Kliptown. It was the ANC that led the negotiated political settlement that ushered in the first democratic elections and the adoption of our wonderful Constitution.
How ANC members will execute their tasks in the 6th Term
The President has highlighted government’s commitment to place research and evidence at the centre of policy making and implementation. In this regard, as Parliament we also need to adopt scientific methods in order to analyse with greater precision how the people benefit from government’s policies and programmes.
The President has outlined the seven priorities for the 6th administration. As the ANC we affirm that the National Development Plan, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of parties represented in this House and most of our civil society formations, remains the framework for government’s policy development and implementation.
Our people have told us that they expect government to tackle the social and economic challenges in a much more efficient, cost-effective and decisive manner. South Africans appreciate the determination by various spheres of government to curb unnecessary spending. Parliament and our Provincial Legislatures have led by example in cutting the extravagance from the budgets of the State of the Nation Address and inauguration ceremonies of Premiers. The ANC in this sixth Parliament would like to see enhanced oversight, more dynamic contact with our constituencies and passing of legislation that will lift the millions of our people out of poverty and unemployment; and narrow the inequality gap.
ANC members will not descend into the arena of childishness and political vulgarity no matter how much we are provoked. Yes, we will engage in the battle of ideas and we will advance superior arguments, informed by facts and evidence, and our ideological grounding; rather than rhetoric or insults. We challenge our colleagues from other parties to help us profile our debates in these houses of Parliament as a festival of ideas.
As Chairman Mao Zedong famously said, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”. Ultimately, we would like to be judged by the manner in which this institution delivers to the aspirations of all the people of South Africa.
While the ANC has the overwhelming majority of representatives in this institution, we believe in building consensus by fostering a culture of mature political management of matters. Hence we call on all the parties here that we must use the Chief Whips’ forum as the most appropriate platform to manage strategic issues. This will allow the two houses of Parliament space to get on with their business of exercising oversight, making and passing quality legislation, and effectively representing our constituencies.
I thank you.