Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

A defiant President Jacob Zuma has suffered another major political setback after his state of the nation address scheduled for Thursday was postponed by at least a week.

This comes as pressure continues to mount on Zuma to resign as president of the country, after he refused to do so on Sunday when the top six officials of the ANC asked him to step down.

A series of meetings took place in Parliament on Wednesday, culminating in National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise announcing the postponement of the address‚ an unprecedented move.

Mbete and Modise went to see Zuma following a meeting of the ANC’s political committee in Parliament‚ which provides strategic political guidance to the party’s parliamentary caucus.

Mbete and Modise said when they proposed the postponement to Zuma‚ he indicated to them that he had actually been in the process of writing to them with a similar proposal. Modise said the initial idea was to postpone the address by no more than a week.

Mbete said they would also "go all out" to ensure the postponement of the address had no bearing on the tabling of the national budget by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba on February 22.

The state of the nation address is an important political event in the country’s calendar as it sets out the government’s policy and service delivery priorities for the financial year.

Zuma’s fate as head of state and head of government is due to be discussed again and finalised by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC)‚ the party’s highest decision-making body in between conferences‚ when it meets at a special meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday evening.

Despite the postponement‚ Zuma is unlikely to return to deliver the address as the ANC NEC is determined to oust him from the highest office in the land.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said his caucus welcomed the latest developments and that a special caucus meeting would be convened on Thursday to apprise MPs on the rationale behind the postponement.

"As the presiding officers have said‚ we would like to move away from a state of the nation address that is chaotic‚ disrupted or disruptive and have an [address] that is in keeping with the sentiments that comes with an [address].

"Many parties have said: ‘Can all of us work towards this ideal‚ towards the holding of a state of the nation address in a climate that is conducive for such.’ At the moment the climate is not conducive … we are happy that the presiding officers informed by the prevailing political environment have arrived at a decision and we welcome that decision‚" Mthembu said.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the decision to postpone the address was "wise" and signalled "the end-game of the Zuma presidency".

"These are the last days of Mr Zuma here in Parliament. I also think that the Ramaphosa crowd were very worried about what Mr Zuma would do‚ terrified that he would startle them [like] he did in December with the no-fees announcement. They are looking to avoid Mr Zuma defining the narrative of the next year. I am happy that this great institution has been spared the terrible indignity of what a farce a Zuma address would have been‚" he said.

Godrich Gardee‚ the secretary-general of the EFF‚ said the party also welcomed the postponement.

"We are calling upon a motion of no confidence to be convened before the address; if Mr Zuma does not resign‚ all we need is for him to tender a resignation letter‚" he said.

The IFP’s chief whip‚ Narend Singh‚ they the party was happy that Mbete and Modise had taken the concerns raised by opposition parties seriously.

"We are very pleased‚ it’s a very responsible decision…. We don’t want Parliament to descend into the kind of chaos that it has in the past. As it is, people have a very low opinion of the institution‚" Singh said.

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