Former president Jacob Zuma has opted not to attend this year’s state of the nation address, the second one since he resigned as president of South Africa.
The event which marks the opening of Parliament, and in this election year the closing of the fifth Parliament, will take place next week Thursday.
During a state of readiness address by the presiding officers this morning, National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete revealed that former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe had confirmed that they would be in attendance.
When asked whether or not this meant that Zuma would not be attending, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise said: “We automatically invite all former heads of state and former presiding officers. If we indicate that he is not coming, it might be because he has not accepted our invitation. But we do not think there is anything untoward about that.”
Last year the state of the nation address, in an unprecedented move, was postponed as the ANC worked behind the scenes to persuade Zuma to resign as president of the country or face an ANC-sponsored motion of no confidence in Parliament. Within the space of a week Zuma resigned, Ramaphosa was sworn in as the new president, and subsequently delivered his first state of the nation address.
Zuma’s state of the nation addresses in recent years had been characterised by violent scenes where members of the Economic Freedom Fighters were physically removed and assaulted by riot police when they refused to allow Zuma to address the nation.
Last week EFF leader Julius Malema issued Ramaphosa with an ultimatum that he give the nation clarity on a R500 000 donation made to his ANC presidential campaign bid by controversial company formerly known as Bosasa, failing which the party would write to Parliament calling on it to convert state of the nation address into a question and answer session.
Ramaphosa had last year told Parliament, responding to a question from DA leader Mmusi Maimane, that the R500 000 had been given to his son, Andile Ramaphosa, for legitimate work he had done for the company as a consultant. At the time, Ramaphosa said he had asked his son “at close range” about the contract. Ramaphosa junior denied that any such contract existed or that any payment of R500 000 had been made to him.
Ramaphosa subsequently withdrew that response, saying that the payment had in fact been made to his ANC campaign and that the money would be paid back.
The president also met with Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane yesterday to submit a formal statement to her. She is investigating the Bosasa donation as per a request by the DA, who this morning called on Ramaphosa to make his statement to Mkhwebane public.
Modise said that no request for a question and answer session had been made by the EFF or anyone else and that no extraordinary security measures had been put in place for next week.
“Is there any measure put in place? No, there is no extraordinary measure. We are not expecting any disruptions,” she said.
“We will apply the rules as we have been. We will apply the protocols as we have been. The fact that a member of Parliament out there, in a season of electioneering, makes a statement does not mean that Parliament must turn itself into a war machine.
“Members, politicians can make speeches but we will apply the rules as we have. So we are not going to put any extraordinary things and yes I accept that since 2014 we have had a few surprises but we will make do with whatever we have and we will rule using the rules known by all MPs and all South Africans.”
Other specials guests who accepted the invitation by Parliament include former presiding officers, speakers Frene Ginwala and Max Sisulu.