Those who only tuned in for SONA 2019 to watch fists flying and brawls developing were left rather disappointed on Thursday night. Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his speech without a hitch, to negotiate one of the most serene State of the Nation addresses in recent memory.
His carefully-navigated path of words managed to keep EFF members – Julius Malema included – in their seats for almost the entirety of his two-hour delivery. We heard from Floyd Shivambu during the red carpet event that the party were meeting to decide if they’d disrupt the speech. In truth, Ramaphosa didn’t give them a chance.
But how do you manage to keep mouths shut, and arses on chairs? Here’s what the president got right in Parliament.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA 2019 speech shuts out the EFF
Acknowledgement of Malema, EFF early doors
This was the biggest factor, without doubt. Within the first few minutes of his speech, Cyril had acknowledged Julius Malema and his party via the medium of humour. He referred to an incident that happened a year ago, shortly after Hugh Masekela’s passing, where Juju asked the president to sing one of Bra Hugh’s songs.
Cyril then went on to say he would take up the challenge this year, and croon in Parliament… but only if the EFF won the 2019 Elections and only if Malema would join him in song. The head of state also invited Mmusi Maimane to join this super-group.
— SABC News Online (@SABCNewsOnline) February 7, 2019
It was a pretty amusing break from protocol, and it acknowledged Malema and his party almost immediately. If they were going to disrupt, it was going to happen early. Cyril’s deviation from the norm flipped the script in his favour and helped establish a more jovial atmosphere in the chambers.
Speech structure for SONA 2019
Listening to his 120-minute address was the equivalent of watching a Proteas opener grind out a score of 50 off 200 balls. For political purists, it was a dogged shift that managed to keep the EFF’s bowling attack (yep, still doing the cricket metaphor) from rearranging his wickets, going at a steady pace.
His speech confronted a lot of failures from the ANC – Ramaphosa admitted that 4 000 schools are still without proper sanitation facilities, and that’s not good enough.
He also recognised corruption within the ruling party existed and proposed both a “new scorpions” unit and stronger education programmes at the National School of Governance. Quite often, he beat any potential disruptors to the punch with his own light-introspection.
Left talk of corruption until late
Timing was key, here. By the time Ramaphosa was onto matters of corruption, we were more than an hour through SONA 2019. The EFF couldn’t kick-off early. He implored more people to come forward to admit their wrongdoings to the state capture inquiry. Now that raised a few chirps, but nothing in the way of disruption came our way.
In fact, you can count the murmurs of discontent on one hand:
- Malema stood to tell an ANC politician he was going to jail.
- Floyd Shivambu accused Ramaphosa of “plagiarism” over basic education plans.
- Corruption talk was met by a few heckles, but no Points of Order were raised.
There’s no doubt Cyril Ramaphosa came out on top on Thursday. But now, words must be actioned and scrutiny is at an all-time high. His speech is already the subject of a fact-checking audit and his promises from 2018 have been thoroughly investigated. Ramaphosa avoided the sting, but that ol’ Cyril charm has a habit of wearing off.