Silver linings at SONA
Together with the Board’s Parliamentary Liaison Chaya Singer, I attended last week’s State of the Nation (SONA) address in Parliament. Without underplaying the very formidable challenges that still need to be overcome, what we heard was a cause for at least cautious optimism. Much of what President Ramaphosa said remained on the level of hopeful rhetoric rather than substantive action, but I was personally encouraged to learn about the genuine progress that is undeniably being made in certain crucial areas. Admittedly, this has been frustratingly slow, but we need also to be realistic about what is practically achievable, given the considerable constraints that state capture has placed on the ability of government to implement effective change.
The fact that the SAJBD, as the acknowledged representative body of South African Jewry, is regularly invited to important national gatherings of this nature is itself something very positive. We have genuinely been made to feel that we are not just spectators, but part of the greater discussion over where our country is going. Chaya’s work in Parliament further enables her to engage with players from right across the political spectrum. In the same week as SONA, for example, she also attended the DA alternative SONA and the EFF post-SONA event at the Press Club of SA. Through this presence on the ground, she is the face of the Board, and therefore of the Jewish community, in the legislative hub of South Africa. By being part of the national conversation, it also makes it easier for the Board to fulfil its core mandate of representing the Jewish community and bringing its concerns to the attention of those responsible for determining and implementing government policy. The connections we have been able to forge over the years have time and again proven invaluable when issues of specific concern to our own constituency have arisen.
SONA this year was to a large extent overshadowed by the disruptive behaviour of certain MPs, which held up proceedings for more than an hour. For those actually present, it was an especially frustrating experience, given the importance of the occasion for all South Africans. Even so, I felt there was a positive side to the incident in that despite the crassly provocative behaviour of an unruly minority, the rules of parliamentary procedure were scrupulously followed in responding to it. The temptation to ride roughshod over those bent on causing disruptions must have been a strong one, but instead the proper procedures were followed throughout. It was a sign of a mature democracy, and we can be grateful for that, even though democracy can occasionally be frustrating.
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