Joe Biden was heckled by Republicans during the US president’s State of the Union address this week. But that reception was warm compared with the one faced by his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation speech last night.
Ramaphosa faced a record number of interjections from the floor, as he declared a state of disaster amid rolling power cuts and a looming recession. With an election due in May 2024, this speech was Ramaphosa’s chance to set out why his ruling African National Congress (ANC), in power since the late Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994, deserves another five-year term. Things did not go well.
Julius Malema of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has called for Zimbabwe-style land seizures, raised endless points of order and caused the speaker to halt the president’s speech while decorum was restored. After being denied a constitutional right to interject by the speaker, Malema’s MPs sang, chanted and danced. The president sat down.
Not that it mattered. In the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, a power cut left many viewers unable to watch. South Africans are used to the lights going off. Since August last year, the state power monopoly, Eskom, has implemented what’s known here as ‘load shedding’, turning off the grid four times a day for an average of two hours each, due to lack of capacity. Such measures are costing South Africa’s economy tens of millions of pounds a month in lost production.
South Africa’s troubles don’t stop there. In a country infamous for crime (Cape Town is one of the murder capitals of the world) and with endless reports of corruption, fake tenders, billions lost from the treasury and levels of black unemployment higher than under white rule during apartheid, it was never going to be easy for Ramaphosa to win the day.