.By Chris Bishop
Before South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa uttered a word in his State of the Nation Address in Parliament in Cape Town the proceedings were thrown into chaos.
Everyone thought the Economic Freedom Fighters were going to attack public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan – instead, they hurled angry words across the floor at the president of South Africa who stepped aside 26 years ago to make way for democracy and Nelson Mandela.
Julius Malema led the way by standing and raising a point of order. He castigated former South Africa’s President FW de Klerk as the commander of Vlakplaas – the apartheid era camp where torture and killings of political activists went on. He called the former president the “Commander of Vlakplaas” and said his presence was an insult to those who died.
“Are we going to go on and on and on about the matter of FW de Klerk? The presence of FW de Klerk in this house is proper as a former president we have done it by the rules.
Delaying the matters of this house on this matter is not going to achieve anything,” replied Thandi Modise the speaker of the house to applause from the ANC ruling party benches.
“Only last week de Klerk takes the mic and says apartheid was not a crime against humanity and you are clapping hands for him,” retorted Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, an EFF MP.
The speaker ruled against them and President Ramaphosa was invited to give his address to applause from most of the house.
As the president prepared to speak, again the EFF benches rose –as expected – to howl down Gordhan who is saddled with the job of reforming the loss-making state owned enterprises.
They called him a minister working for what they called white monopoly capital. The same opposition MPS in EFF red who once howled: “Payback the money” to former president Jacob Zuma and applauded Gordhan when he was named as finance minister for the second time after the former’s disastrous finance minister shuffle.
“Pravin Gordhan must go,” shouted one of the EFF MPs to cheers from his Parliamentary colleagues.
“ Please fire Pravin Gordhan or we go…Please adjourn the house so you can fire Pravin Gordhan and you will have a peaceful, peaceful, SONA,” shouted another.
The increasingly angry Speaker of the House looked like a kettle about to boil over. Modise told EFF MPs to take their seats to laughter from the EFF benches and uproar from the ruling party benches.
“You all have a minute to take your seats or march out,” Modise shouted, over the din on the floor, jabbing her finger at the EFF benches.
Other MPs complained that millions across the country were waiting to hear what the president had to say and it was unfair that the chaos on the floor was holding up proceedings. Elder statesman Mangosuthu Buthelezi tried to call for calm, but it was as if he was shouting in the wilds of KwaZulu-Natal where he grew up.
Malema’s EFF argued they had a right to speak in Parliament, yet the speaker disagreed.
“You are simply retarding the progress of this house tonight,” says Modise.
The best part of an hour was wasted in squabbling across the floor and the nation still had no idea, from the lips of the president, what state it was in.
“South Africa is not very proud of us tonight,” said Modise with the shake of her head after 40 minutes of arguing. The heartfelt words fell like a cup of water on a bushfire.
Maybe the chaos did reflect on the state of the nation in a backhanded way. At the very least, the squabbling was a clear, depressing, sign of the divisions and dissatisfaction that ail the once hopeful, golden, rainbow nation.