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African press review 13 February 2015

Zuma addresses the nation's problems but not Nkandlagate. The EFF raises the question in its own inimitable way. Nigerian papers are worried about electioneering politicians sounding off about Boko Haram.


High drama in parliament dominates the papers in South Africa this morning.

TheSowetan leads on the State of the Nation speech by President Jacob Zuma. In fact, the paper prints the entire text of Zuma's address. There is an awful lot of it. To be fair, Zuma doesn't shy away from the challenges the country faces, notably in job creation and the troubled energy sector.

There are quite a few claims of progress, in the fields of health care and the continuing fight against crime and corruption, for example.

Zuma told parliament that the government has in place seven anti-corruption institutions and 17 pieces of legislation intended to combat corruption. This demonstrates a concerted effort by government to break the back of this scourge in the country.

Slideshow Mandela

In the 2013-14 financial year 52 persons were convicted in cases involving more than five million rand.

Thirty-one public servants were convicted in the first quarter of 2014-15 and freezing orders to the value of 430 million rand were obtained.

To prevent corruption and promote ethical governance Zuma signed into law the Public Administration and Management Act, which, among other things, prohibits public servants from doing business with the state, in December.

There has been speculation in recent days about whether Zuma would have anything to say about what's become known as "Nkandlagate". Regular listeners will recall the long-running controversy about the use of public funds to make improvements to the president's homestead, said to be for security reasons and costing over 246 million rand (over 18 million euros). A report by the Public Protector found that Zuma unduly benefited from these improvements. If he did mention it, I must have missed it.

It's an issue that some believe has kept him away from the National Assembly since August when chaos erupted with members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party chanting “Pay back the money.”

They were at it again yesterday, the Sowetan and other papers tell readers. Party leader Julius Malema and EFF MPs,dressed in their trademark red jumpsuits, interrupted Zuma's speech, dancing and chanting "Pay back the money".

For Business Day and others, this is a better story than Zuma's speech. The paper reports Malema's intervention, "We want the president to answer a simple question: when is he paying the money as instructed by the public protector?"

Answer was there none. Instead, fist fights broke out as the EFF MPs were dragged out of the house. Six EFF MPs were taken to hospital to have their injuries treated, the paper tells us. Meanwhile, members of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, left the Assembly after presiding officers failed to explain the removal of EFF MPs.

Angry words followed. EFF Deputy President Floyd Shivambu warned the EFF will be armed next time.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holo-misa the first MP to exit the chamber said “This is a police state and we want no part of it.”

In its editorial Business Days says "Zuma has his own Rubicon to cross". Classics scholars will know that this his phrase alludes to the Roman Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon river between ancient Gaul and Italy in 49 BC, thereby starting a war. Not to be taken literally. The suggestion is rather to make a decision that cannot be changed later. The text seems to lose sight of this analogy. But it pulls no punches.

Dossier: Sharia wars - Boko Haram v the military in northern Nigeria

"Mr Zuma himself has grown into the biggest elephant; his efforts to avoid playing by the rules are a constant distraction," the paper tells us.

The biggest obstacle to the ANC, the ruling party, crossing its Rubicon is the party’s own culture and how it manifests in the way the government functions. Or fails to function.

In Nigeria there is a real war going on, of course, and scarcely a day goes by without more dead and wounded in the armed conflict with the Boko Harama Islamist sect. There's increasing disquiet in some of the papers about how the country's politicians are responding.

The Guardian says it is amazing to observe that a majority of Nigerians feel less concerned about the happenings in the north-east, especially why the insurgency has remained despite the federal government’s efforts.

In its editorial the paper targets the political class and the immoderate threats being issued in the run-up to the general and presidential elections.

"It is an enduring tragedy of the ongoing politicking that many who speak do so without much wisdom but only to show how much they like the sound of their own voices," the paper says.

"The run-up to the postponed elections has been underlined by violent vituperation by politicians enamoured only of power and its concomitant benefits In pouring such enormous bile," it goes on. "They seem to forget that Nigeria must survive and thrive; the interest of the masses seems to take the back stage as war drums are beaten."

Phew! That's telling them.

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