Things could not have gone worse for President Jacob Zuma tonight. He will look into a mirror in the morning and feel desperately embarrassed.
His lack of leadership skills has never been exposed to the extent that it was during the State of the Nation (Sona) speech. In fact, it reached an all-time low.
It was widely expected that Malema and his band of brothers would try to disrupt his address, but few people would have contemplated the fiasco that was set to unfold. It seemed as if Zuma and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete were not prepared for a very obvious EFF strategy, and it was Mbete again who allowed the National Assembly to degenerate into chaos.
The controversy started even prior to this. The use of a signal jammer to disrupt communication within Parliament is a clear contravention of the Constitution. So is the apparent use of security forces to remove the EFF members from the chamber.
It is critical that these events are investigated and the names of those individuals who authorised it, are made pubic.
But the most notable event of the Sona 2015 was Zuma himself. The fact that he did absolutely nothing during the chaos is telling. It was the ideal opportunity for him to take the stage and to do what leaders do. But what did he do? He did nothing.
He had the ideal opportunity to have a massive go at the EFF to label them hooligans. He had the ideal opportunity to show that Malema was a cheap opportunist that has no disregard for parliamentary protocol.
Zuma did nothing.
I am pretty sure this chaos would definitely not have happened under the late Nelson Mandela, nor under Thabo Mbeki.
Believe it or not, Zuma made it even worse when he took the podium again.
Instead of acting like a head of state, he coughed his famous chuckle and nervously continued to read his prepared speech. It was very ironic that the first few paragraphs he read was the announcement that all schools will in future practice the national anthem of the African Union.
Boy, this is embarrassing.
The actual speech
The rest of Zuma’s address was pretty much as hollow as his handling of the EFF confrontation.
He did not announce any new project of any significance, but merely continued with the “South Africa has a good story to tell” rhetoric. He did identify the current Eskom crisis as the strongest headwind blowing, but he offered no major solution apart from “we are doing all we can” to solve the problem.
He also referred to the National Development Plan in passing. In fact, he referred on more than five occasions to “Operation Phakisa” as a key plan to improve economic growth in the country. I am pretty sure that many MPs would have Googled “Operation Phakisa” last night (I did) to see what this plan is all about. I can see the frowns as this plan largely focuses on the “ocean economy”, which in South Africa’s current economic environment is nothing more than a novelty plan.
The ramifications of the Sona 2015 will resound throughout the year. Zuma’s leadership has reached an all-time low. The only occasion when he looked up and deviated from his prepared speech, was when he mocked the poor performance of Bafana Bafana during the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
I hope Sona is a turning point for South African politics. It was not only a major embarrassment for South Africa, but also for the ANC.
The time is now for the ANC to recall Zuma and to replace him with Cyril Ramaphosa.