Presidency budget vote: Insults and name-calling dominate first day

BY CHARL BOSCH - MAY 5, 2016

Sparks continued to fly in Parliament on Wednesday as MP’s traded insults and made numerous jibes at each other on the first day of debating the Presidency’s budget vote.

The near seven hour sitting turned heated right from the start when Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Deputy President, Floyd Shivambu, objected to President Jacob Zuma being present for the debate, saying it goes against the Constitution for the National Assembly to be addressed by an “illegitimate President”.

It was Zuma’s first appearance in Parliament since the Constitutional Court found in March that he violated the Constitution by not adhering to the remedial actions of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report, and a week after the North Gauteng High Court ruled that all 783 charges of corruption against him dropped in 2009, be reinstated.

“He cannot speak here. We are again undermining the stature of Parliament if we allow Jacob Zuma to speak here,” Shivambu said to applause from EFF MP and heckles from the opposite side of the House.

An interjection by African National Congress (ANC) Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu was vetoed minutes later with EFF spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, accusing National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete of failing to put the party’s motion to the house on whether Zuma should take to the stand.

Democratic Alliance (DA) Chief Whip John Steenhuisen then intervened to demand that the President up front apologise for violating the Constitution, as well as give account how he plans on addressing the corruption charges and how to have his cabinet meet its Parliamentary expectations.

Things turned ugly after Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Narend Singh questioned Mbete’s decision not consult MP before ruling against the EFF’s application.

Rising on a point of order, a visibly angry Ndlozi laid into the DA for wanting to Zuma speak, before getting involved in a shouting match with Mbete who had instructed him to leave the House.

The person who needs to leave is Jacob Zuma… he has broken his oath of office, he has no honour and his word cannot be trusted. How can we respect you?” he shouted with fellow MP, Natasha Louw, remarking “How can you worship Jacob Zuma like this?”

Refusing Mbete’s call for them to leave, members of the Parliament Protection Service were called to remove the MP’s as Zuma started his speech.

Speaking directly after him, Mthembu stated that the President showed humility by apologising on television shortly after the court’s ruling, before issuing a warning to EFF leader Julius Malema, who did not attend, that the ruling party would come out on top after the local government elections.

“We want to sound a stern warning to those who think they can commit acts of sabotage and foment civil war that the Boeremag fate shall be theirs and prison shall be their home,” Mthembu said in reference to Malema’s comments last month that the EFF would not hesitate in taking down the government “through the barrel of a gun”.

He also took a swipe at DA leader Mmusi Maimane, describing him as a “verkrampte” leading a movement of “self-declared racist” who “yearn for the days of P.W Botha”. He was however told to withdraw the remark.

Proceedings then deteriorated when Maimane, speaking after Mthembu, referred to Zuma as “the looter in chief” and “accused number one”, resulting in Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli asking him to withdraw the remarks.

“The president has not been found guilty of those charges. Honourable Maimane you cannot call somebody a criminal who has not been convicted,” Tsenoli said, causing Steenhuisen to jump up and accuse him of limiting Maimane’s freedom of speech.

A heated debate ensued with Maimane refusing to withdraw the remark, resulting in both Mthembu and Tsenoli calling for him to withdraw, and Steenhuisen continuing to accuse them of impeding on his freedom of speech.

Maimane eventually opted to withdraw but caused further controversy by calling Zuma’s former financial advisor Schabir Shaik “the original Gupta”.

“For someone who was released from jail more than seven years ago to die a dignified death, he’s doing remarkably well. In fact, his prognosis is so good, he has now applied for a presidential pardon from his old friend,” Maimane said to laughter from DA benches as both Tsenoli and Mthembu again called for him to withdraw.

The sequence continued to be repeated numerous times with Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane rising to demand that Maimane refer to Zuma as honourable and not mister, leading Steenhuisen to quip “Minister Zwane brought to you by Atul Gupta”.

Maimane eventually finished his speech by calling Zuma a thief, leading to objections from Mthembu and Singh, the latter labelling the comment as offensive and the time given to the argument unfair.

Controversies continued throughout the sitting with DA Shadow Minister in the Presidency, Sejamothopo Motau, accusing the President of showing the country the middle finger by not handing in his resignation after the court’s ruling.

“Mr Zuma needs to know that the people of this country are not fools. As we speak, those who have made it their mission to protect and defend Mr Zuma, variously described as, “Zuma’s idiots” or “Zuma Zombies”, are rattling their sabres telling this country that Mr Zuma “is going nowhere”- in spite of the ConCourt judgement,” he said.

Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald then took aim at the Department of Defence’s intended purchase of a new Presidential jet for Zuma, while Minister for Woman Presidency Susan Shabangu hit out at the DA’s lack of woman in leadership positions.

The sitting ended with Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela taking a jibe at the EFF by first offering congratulations for filling the Orlando Stadium in Soweto during their manifesto launch this Saturday, before presenting a water gun he had brought for Malema.

“If he can operate this, then we know he can actually overthrow the branch of ANC in Seshego. Other than that, I don't take his threats seriously. We are ready to defend the sovereignty of democracy that many fought and died for,” Manamela said as ANC members clapped in support.

He also took a swipe at the DA for trying to rival the EFF in disrupting Parliament, saying the party under Maimane’s leadership had degenerated and could no longer be seen as an alternative to the ANC.

“They want to compete with the EFF on a downward slope of weak oppositionism that is only interested in replacing the EFF as a swearing machine. When the EFF left, they saw it as an opportunity to shine”.

It has since been reported that the EFF had been barred from attending Parliamentary sittings for five working days. The sitting is expected to continue on Thursday afternoon.