SONA Reply: Over the past days, Members of Parliament (MPs) have been debating President Zuma’s SONA speech, which centered around expediting land reform and ensuring radical transformation.
Zuma’s February 9th SONA speech was marred by an intensive pandemonium and lawlessness displayed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The Malema-led party’s subsequent removal also gave rise to walkouts from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other opposition groups.
As demanded by the constitution, members of both houses of Parliament – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) usually dissect the president’s SONA speech after a couple of days.
The SONA debate kicked off on Tuesday, February 14, in Parliament. The debate, has so far, offered opposition parties an opportunity to weigh and appraise the strength and weakness of Zuma’s speech.
Reading his reply in Parliament on Thursday, Zuma slammed Parliament members for turning Parliament into a beer hall last Thursday. He emphatically warned his politicians to desist from using the deaths of the mentally ill patients as a political gain.
Zuma was making reference to the Democratic Alliance MPs, who proposed a moment of silence for the dead patients during Thursday’s state of the nation address.
The president admitted that the deaths of the patients were very painful to the country, but should not be used for political gains.
He extended the country’s deepest condolences to the families of psychiatric patients and promised that his government will continue to support the families, and ensure that the recommendations of the Health Ombudsperson are implemented.
Meanwhile, the DA has since written to Zuma requesting that he establishes a judicial commission of inquiry into the Esidimeni deaths, as allowed by section 84 of the Constitution.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said on Thursday morning that the blue block wants to know how the patients died in Guateng.
He insisted that the “cruel, inhumane and degrading” deaths of the patients were a result of a “litany of judgment errors by the ANC government”.
Fresh reports that the death toll of the mentally ill patients has risen above 100 has since sparked anger and vexation among families of the patients since this week.
An initial figure of 96 was released by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba on February 1 but it came to light on Wednesday that over 100 patients died after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni to 27 NGOs.
Makgoba told Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on Wednesday that his office has been receiving more data from members of the public on deaths of the mentally ill patients since his report was published on February 1.
The head of the provincial health ministry, Qedani Mahlangu, resigned just hours before the ombudsman released his preliminary report last month. Two other senior officials, Barney Selebano and Makgabo Manamela, were subsequently suspended.
Opposition parties currently are pursuing criminal charges against Mahlangu.