Dear Mr Malema: Those Who Live In Glass Houses Should Not Throw Stones
By Perry Munzwembiri
The South African parliament degenerated into chaos this past Thursday as the Economic Freedom Fighters; led by the firebrand Julius Malema staged a sit-in whilst parliament was in session. This, after a less than satisfactory response from President Jacob Zuma when asked to answer questions on when he was going to repay part of the money used for security upgrades to his private residence in his home village of Nkandla, as per the recommendations of South Africa’s Public Protector report.
In what could be passed for a comical stunt, President Zuma was eventually forced to leave the podium and parliamentary proceedings were suspended. Following the EFF`s breakdown into the “pay back the money” chorus, it is ironic that Julius Malema is also due in court later this week on the count of tax evasion charges totalling around R16 million after failing to submit tax returns between 2006 and 2010.
The question therefore arises as to whether Julius Malema and indeed the EFF as a whole are in any position to hold the moral compass on the ‘Nkandlagate’ issue when he is also facing serious tax evasion charges. Certainly, this is something the EFF appears to be disregarding, when one considers their rather vocal disapproval of President Jacob Zuma and the way the Nkandla Security updates matter has been handled.
The irony of this whole matter as has been indicated earlier, stems from the fact that Mr Malema is facing a sequestration hearing after he earlier this year accepted liability of his dues to the country`s tax collector, South African Revenue Services (SARS) during initial debt settlement talks. With the SARS claiming that Mr Malema is not in a financial position to repay his tax obligations, Julius Malema will have to prove that he indeed can pay the money and thus avoid sequestration.
The consequences of Julius Malema being declared insolvent at the sequestration hearings later on this week, could be dire, and effectively bring to an abrupt end his career as a sitting Member of Parliament. Section 47 (1)(c) of the South African Constitution disqualifies a person whose estate has been sequestrated from being a Member of Parliament. This is a genuine reality that Mr Malema faces in his ongoing court proceedings. Should the final order for sequestration be made, Julius Malema will immediately be disqualified from being a Member of Parliament. This could potentially have far reaching ramifications on South Africa`s political landscape as well as on the EFF.
It is clearly uncertain whether Mr Malema will be declared as insolvent or not, but the events of the past week, bring to the fore several issues. These are among other things, the Nkandla corruption allegations, independence of South Africa`s judiciary apparatus and perhaps more importantly, the methods employed by the EFF to advance their political agenda.
Firstly, is the issue of Malema taking the lead in pressing President Zuma for answers on the Nkandla issue as well as when (read if) he will pay back the excess money spent on renovations to his private residence. Malema comes across as being somewhat sanctimonious in his attempt to show moral superiority and sway public opinion against the ANC and President Zuma, when he is also facing tax evasion charges. Hence the likening of the ‘tantrum’ displayed in parliament by the EFF this past week to the English proverb, “Those who live in glass houses must not throw stones.” Of course, some will feel that leaders ought to be held accountable and that it is immaterial who leads in championing this cause. With the final order of sequestration having not been laid out yet, Mr Malema and his other EFF MPs are well within their rights to seek answers from the President, some could even argue.
Another important issue that comes into play will be the independence of South Africa`s judiciary. For long now, Mr Malema has laid accusations that SARS was not being partial in their handling of his case. The EFF have since taken the stance that the SARS have been seeking to delegitimise their leader as well as their party. This places some pressure on the tax collector to show that it is indeed partial and acting independently. Of course, the burden of proof lies on Malema to prove the link between his political past and the prosecution being brought on him. Still if there is any shred of merit to his claim of the allegations being a ploy to discredit him, the court`s independence will be called into question particularly if the outcome of his sequestration hearings is negative for Julius Malema. With the ANC having held no less than three press conferences in the wake of last Thursday`s EFF protests, voicing their dismay at the EFF, will they be seen as having influenced the court`s decision in Malema`s case?
Then there is the interest generated in the wisdom or lack thereof in some of the strategies being used by the EFF to advance their cause. The jury is still out, as to the efficacy these strategies, but there has been notable public outcries over the EFF`s blatant disregard for protocol and contempt of the August House. South Africa`s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance`s national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane publicly condemned Thursday`s parliamentary events and viewed them as undermining the country`s democracy. Julius Malema`s tactics have for long been criticised, and he has often been seen as too radical and militant at times. Gwede Mantashe, Secretary General of the ANC went as far as to label Malema as a fascist leader who promotes violence. All this speaks to Malema`s demeanour as a public figure and his capabilities a political leader overall.
Without doubt, the EFF raised key questions that the South African public deserves answers to, but one has to query the manner in which they went about it. As his final sequestration hearing looms, could Julius Malema rue casting stones around, when he himself lives in a glass house?