Magazine article New African

In What Condition Is the State of the Nation?

Magazine article New African

In What Condition Is the State of the Nation?

Article excerpt

Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters' dramatic exploits in parliament have been whipping up unprecedented focus and interest in the post-apartheid, interracial South African National Assembly. This month's State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma is therefore ripe for drama. As Pusch Commey reports, at the bottom of it all is the condition South Africa finds itself in, 20 years into political freedom.

It was telling when Julius Malema's newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 25 seats in the 400-seat ANC-dominated parliament in May 2014. For a new party renowned largely for punching the ruling party below the belt in political street fights, pundits and critics presumed that the EFF in parliament would just be a tame horse, saddled by the rules of parliament. But they were all in for a major surprise.

The EFF's entry into South Africa's hallowed chambers has meant much more than giving the ANC (in power for the last two decades), a hefty reality check. In the full glare of the media, for the past nine months the world has watched embarrassing political clashes reminiscent of a tavern brawl, right inside the respected House, as the EFF harangued, even mocked the ANC and its leader President Jacob Zuma in many parliamentary debates and proceedings, especially the infamous Nkandla-gate.

In scenes never experienced in 20 years since apartheid ended, the ANC, which has 238 seats in the house, has at times been reduced to ridicule and left to spectate as Malema and his colleagues have torn the ruling party apart, demanding that it be more economically accountable to the majority poor: black South Africans. Many observers say what has been happening in the South African parliament at the hands of the EFF is simply an extension of the reality on the ground outside it.

Since ascending to his current status as leader of the EFF, having been expelled from the ANC for insubordination, Malema's version of political populism, and his message of economic freedom for black South Africans, has resonated with the electorate, as poverty, unemployment and inequality continue to hog the headlines, and it remains at the heart of South Africa's post-apartheid political discourse.

But the ANC has not been all bad news for the country, as its critics (including Malema) would like the world to believe. To a large extent, the black-majority ruling party has upheld the rule of law. It has had its political challenges since coming to power, but most have been overcome. However, it is on the question of poverty, inequality and unemployment that it has struggled to find a satisfactory solution, especially on the question of massive inequalities between blacks and whites.

After 20 years of black rule, about 10% of the whites still control 95% of the economy. And the thorny issue of the same 10% whites owning about 80% of South Africa's best land, remains unresolved. Meanwhile, it is generally acknowledged that corruption, especially in the state-controlled sectors, has spiralled out of control in recent years.

Inequality and poverty is why the use of R246 million ($25 million) of taxpayers' money on the private homestead of President Jacob Zuma (Nkandla), passed off as security upgrades, struck such a raw nerve among the populace. An investigation by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended that the president pay back a portion for non security upgrades, valued at R20 million ($1.9 million). However, the president has refused to admit liability and will not "pay back the money"--a mantra that has become the EFF's rallying call in every parliamentary session, but one which has also reverberated across the country.

A parliament of "fouls"

The EFF's brash behaviour in parliament has widely been condemned as crude, but one thing is for sure--their unruly behaviour has drawn an intense public and global focus onto the country's parliament. …

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