There was a brawl even before President Jacob Zuma began his fourth State of the Nation address on Thursday 9 February, at the House of Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa. The scuffle was between guards in white shirts and opposition lawmakers in uniform red shirts.
Shortly after most members of the opposition had left the hall in protest, Zuma started to speak, and right after protocol salutations, he said: ‘‘While the global economic environment remains uncertain, indications are that we have entered a period of recovery’’.
Last year, at the time Zuma’s third State of the Nation (SONA16) address was delivered, South Africa’s economic outlook was bleak. So he was more cautious: ‘‘Our country seems to be at risk of losing its investment grade status from ratings agencies,” he had said.
This was happily updated in the 2017 speech: ‘‘We successfully avoided credit ratings downgrades which would have had significant impact on our economy’’.
The unchanged Standard & Poor’s BBB ratings; Moody’s Baa2; and Fitch’s BBB- served Zuma to simply say to members of South Africa’s Parliament something like this: See, there’s been an uptick in the economy, I’m doing my bit.
Ordinarily, talking about the economy bouncing back is a great way to get people to listen. But the scares on the economy last year, most would argue, were self-inflicted. So talking up the economy wasn’t a plan that was going to shield Zuma from protests by opposition lawmakers.
Besides, the opposition lawmakers who had walked out claimed the brawl, halting Zuma’s speech, were not entirely their fault. They were protesting, among other things, the deployment of 441 soldiers ahead of SONA17.
For some South Africans, military personnel standing guard over parliamentary proceedings direct attention to everything else but the speech.
So while Zuma was saying, ‘‘we anticipate an economic growth rate of 1.3 per cent in 2017 following an estimated 0.5 per cent in 2016’’, some South Africans were like, see this gorgeous armoured vehicle.
Sartorial gorgeousness is also an annual fixture of the SONA. Prior to the Zuma’s speech, guests and members of Parliament were on the red carpet:
Chairperson of National Council of Provinces, Thandie Modise, and Speaker, Baleka Mbeta, shouting ‘‘Order! Order!’’ during proceedings were just as effective 411 soldiers.
SONA2017 was dedicated in honour of former ANC President and struggle stalwart Oliver Tambo.
Miriam Makeba also got a mention.
If the dresses, the costumes, the colorful outfits, which depict a Rainbow Nation are anything to judge by, the state of South Africa was certainly bright and interesting.