Cyril ups the ante for opposition parties

President Cyril Ramaphosa disarmed his critics in parliament in his response to the debate on his State of the Nation Address.  /ESA ALEXANDER
President Cyril Ramaphosa disarmed his critics in parliament in his response to the debate on his State of the Nation Address. /ESA ALEXANDER

An air of calm pervaded parliament as President Cyril Ramaphosa responded to the debate on his State of the Nation Address.

There are no guarantees how long the calm will last but now the Zuma era has passed, the challenge has been thrown to the opposition to raise their level of debate.

For years now, opposition parties have used much of their air time in parliament to barrage the ANC with criticism and censure over a delinquent president and the governing party's consistent defence of his indiscretions. But, an anti-corruption stance and appeal for clean government are in no way clear policy positions that enlighten voters about what these parties would do differently to achieve development and transformation.

Even as the opposition will continue to scrutinise the governing party, the credibility that Ramaphosa is engendering in the government and the ANC means there will need to be more thinking and less howling.

Ramaphosa's responses demonstrated that he has little appetite for the obfuscation of his predecessor. He is not afraid of tackling questions head-on and he does not perceive it as weakness to acknowledge the failings of the past.

He disarmed his critics in parliament and addressed their assessment of his vision and plan head-on. And taking South Africans into his confidence, he went to the heart of what necessitates transformation.

The transformation agenda is in no way a divisive one. It is buttressed by statistics and facts. Whites continue to do better in all development indicators.

A transformed SA is not one where there will be no place for white people and where the prospects of white youth are dismissed, but one where they enjoy their advantages together with fellow black citizens.

Addressing the land issue, erroneously used to peddle a neo "swart gevaar", Ramaphosa asserted that the taking of land from the indigenous people of this country was the original sin.

"The return of the land to the people from whom it was taken speaks to precisely how we can heal the divisions of the past.

"We need to interrogate the statement that the expropriation of land without compensation is incompatible with a growing, flourishing economy.

"There are few in our country who would contest the fact that dispossession of black South Africans of their land contributed fundamentally to the impoverishment and disempowerment of the majority of our people."

Ramaphosa did not evade nor avoid addressing that singular dark cloud that hangs over his head despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the Farlam Commission on Marikana - an issue the EFF has seized upon to justify cynicism over his commitment to transformation.

"The Marikana tragedy stands out as the darkest moment in the life of our young democracy.

"Notwithstanding the findings of the Farlam Commission . I am determined to play whatever role I can play in the process of healing and atonement."

The Life Esidimeni tragedy also featured in his speech.

This is a president who is raising the bar of debate in the country. The opposition can no longer rely on vague appeals for clean government. They must now present substantive policy proposals.