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Ramaphosa ignores MPs' mudslinging and gets on with his own show

President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to respond to criticism of his assessment of the state of the nation on Thursday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to respond to criticism of his assessment of the state of the nation on Thursday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has stunned MPs, particularly those from the opposition, by opting in the past two days not to substantively engage with their criticism of his leadership and his administration's plans.

MPs spend Tuesday and Wednesday debating the content of Ramaphosa's state of the nation address (Sona) he delivered last week, with EFF leader Julius Malema describing the president as incompetent and clueless.

DA leader John Steenhuisen also on Tuesday suggested that Ramaphosa was placing the interests of the ANC ahead of those of the country, saying he had remained quiet while former president Jacob Zuma undermined the rule of law by snubbing the Zondo commission and the Constitutional Court.

But Ramaphosa on Thursday immediately moved to dismiss the criticism as nothing but “mudslinging and name-calling” that he argued had no place in a Sona debate.

“Much of what we heard from the opposition benches over the past two days was little more than name-calling and mudslinging. It is the business of this house to engage not in insults, but on what is needed to restore confidence and bring stability to our nation.

“We will overcome the coronavirus pandemic,” said Ramaphosa, who swiftly went on to detail some of the plans he had outlined last week — a move Steenhuisen later described as a “regurgitation of Sona”.

He said his Sona for this year was deliberately packaged to track and update the nation on progress made in implementing the plans he presented in 2020 and 2019, as well as in the economic recovery and reconstruction plan he tabled in October.

In his reply on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the government would be assembling a team of local scientists to help SA develop its own vaccine against the coronavirus.

Ramaphosa said this was informed by the successes achieved by “South African scientists, engineers and manufacturers who had been able to design and produce personal protective equipment and thousands of medical ventilators within a matter of months” in response to the killer respiratory disease.

He said higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande had been given the task of assembling a team of medical experts to develop the country's own Covid-19 vaccine.

“I have asked the minister of higher education and innovation to put together a team of scientists to begin the process of developing our own vaccines to deal with this and future pandemics,” he said.

“We live in an era where pandemics may become more frequent and we must therefore be self-reliant in relation to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. We must develop the scientific capabilities that our country has demonstrated to prepare for the future.”

Ramaphosa said it was not all doom and gloom for the country — as the opposition parties had argued this week — saying latest economic research showed employment was again on the rise after the lifting of the lockdown restrictions.

He said on the figures released by the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile survey (Nids-Cram) on Wednesday.

“This data shows that by October last year, total employment had recovered to almost the level seen in February, just before the pandemic. While we await the release of new data from Stats SA, these findings are a remarkable early signal of a robust and resilient labour-market recovery,” he said.

Ramaphosa complained that MPs spend most of their time “distracted by the political intrigues of the day” instead of focusing on the social and economic challenges of the electorate.

“We are too often overcome by the unrelenting pressures of the moment, so that we fail to see the enormous potential that resides within this nation. If we fail to see that potential, if we fail to recognise our strengths, then we will fail to seize the opportunities that they present for building a better society.”



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