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State of the nation – an austerity budget and corruption trials

February will be decision month for President Ramaphosa and finance chief Tito Mboweni

The grandiose state opening of parliament and state of the nation address scheduled for 11 February have been radically scaled down, not only to meet the public health demands of the coronavirus pandemic but also to send a message about the financial morass.

Only 50 people, instead of the usual 1,200, will attend the parliamentary session when President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address in parliament next Thursday. Gone too are the red carpets, military parades and soldiers placed across the centre of Cape Town, 21-gun salutes and the elite fashionistas parading the latest outfits in front of the cameras. The budget for the event has been cut to 2.4 million rand (US$160,000).

This sombre backdrop will intensify the focus on Ramaphosa's message this year. It will be dominated by the pandemic. The good news is that the case load is down to around 5,000 a day from over four times that figure. That allowed Ramaphosa to end the closure of the beaches and parks, as well as the ban on alcohol at the beginning of this month. 

Exasperated by the public furore over the government's failure to secure vaccine supplies, the efforts were hobbled by turf wars between the Treasury department and the Health ministry, Ramaphosa will talk up the first consignment of vaccines into the country this week (AC Vol 62 No 2, A scramble for vaccines & Vol 62 No 3, Shot in the dark).

As outgoing chairman of the African Union, Ramaphosa and the Africa Centres for Disease Control's John Nkengasong have been battling with big pharmaceutical companies and government bureaucracies to organise shipments of vaccines across the continent.

But South Africans are expecting a clear response from Ramaphosa to unfolding revelations at the Zondo Commission about ousted President Jacob Zuma's operation of a parallel spy network within the state security system. That testimony has been corroborated by the current acting Director-General of the State Security Agency, Loyiso Jafta.

Several of those linked to the testimony about Zuma's spy network still hold senior positions in the government. Zuma risks arrest for refusing to appear before the Zondo Commission which he dismisses and 'politically biased'. He is due to appear before the Zondo Commission on 15 February.

Zuma's stance is supported by Ace Magashule, Secretary General of the African National Congress, due in court on 19 February on charges of grand corruption. Six days before then, Ramaphosa's support in the ANC will be tested when the National Executive Committee debates whether Magashule should be compelled to step down from his number two position in the party. 

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