Post-SONA Debate, Day 2: The overalls are over it
If the first two days of the Fifth Parliament’s sitting can be taken to have set the tone for debate within the National Assembly, we’re in for quite a time of it. On Thursday, as on Wednesday, a good number of politicians were prioritising bashing their rivals over delivering any substantive contributions to what was supposed to be a discussion about President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.
This was particularly evident if you compared their written speeches with what the politicians actually delivered. ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani’s prepared speech included a lengthy account of the ANC’s land reform policy, guided by the principles of the National Development Plan, but he didn’t have time to get to any of that because he was too busy slamming the DA.
The opposition party’s reliance on the notion of an “open opportunity society” automatically benefited children raised in privilege, Sizani said. “Such a society believes an individual’s lack of success or lack of opportunities is due to their own weakness and not those of the circumstances into which they are found or the system into which they are born.”
DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, who had a fairly torrid time of it on Wednesday, was again singled out for special criticism. Sizani said that it was an insult to the electorate to believe that “token black faces” could sway voters. He went so far as to read former DA spin-doctor Gareth van Onselen’s scathing appraisal of Maimane as a political figure who trades in “safe cliches and truisms”.
Sizani said that the DA was the first to point fingers at ANC corruption, but remained silent on malfeasance from within their own ranks. He urged listeners to investigate the story behind the troubled Outdshoorn municipality, where expelled DA councillor Peter Roberts wrote an affidavit blowing the whistle on the DA caucus. Sizani also hinted, somewhat mysteriously, that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was being controlled by US statesman Henry Kissinger. He seemed to base this on a comment made after Kissinger visited Zille in 2010, and subsequently remarked that the DA’s success in the Western Cape was a project of “international significance”.
“What is this internationally significant project that the DA is running on behalf of Henry Kissinger?” Sizani asked, meaningfully.
It is perhaps revealing that ANC figures have been expending so much energy in this debate in attacking the DA, rather than the EFF. The ANC’s Yunus Karrim may have scoffed at the DA’s election performance on Wednesday, but the party’s growth seems to have rattled the ruling party enough to warrant repeated take-downs.
The media came in for another slap from a senior ANC figure, with Deputy Higher Education Minister Mduduzi Manana accusing the media and opposition parties of having “co-opted each other” against the will of the majority. The final proof of the ANC’s election results has been returned to repeatedly throughout this debate, with ANC MPs choosing to heckle the DA simply with the words “11 million”: the number of South Africans who voted for the ANC.
For their part, two DA politicians – Sej Motau and Cathy Labuschagne – urged the ANC to pull out of the tripartite alliance. Motau said the notion had “outlived its usefulness”; Labuschagne charged that it was an alliance that existed on paper only, with little consensus about how to tackle the economy. Nkandla was also still prominent among the DA’s grievances. MP Ian Ollis performed a little piece of political theatre by brandishing a chequebook and offering to repay the cost of the security upgrades on Zille’s residence – R3,248 – if Zuma would do likewise with Nkandla.
Amidst the potshots, there was also mention of policy routes to be taken in the months ahead. Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said that the government would be looking into further restrictions on alcohol sales. She said too that government was investigating the possibility of providing support for seasonal farm-workers in the off-season, indicating that a test project would be rolled out in De Doorns – epicentre of the Western Cape farm protests 18 months ago.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi reinforced the government’s commitment to the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI), which he described as “the third revolution in healthcare”. Motsoaledi also said that combating TB – the biggest killer in South Africa – would be a major priority during this government’s term. He indicated that the government is getting serious about tackling the issue of silicosis in former mineworkers (see the Daily Maverick’s special investigation here).
Government would be establishing what he called “one-stop service centres” to tackle the issue of silicosis, he said. There, former mineworkers would be able to receive health assessments by medics trained in occupational medicine; receive rehabilitation; and receive advice about pensions and compensation. Child and maternal mortality will also be a major focus for the Health Department, with pre-birth and post-natal services to be beefed up.
Those hoping for some insight from Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams into the mandate of her newly-formed department would have been disappointed, however. Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was smacked down for her own communication after saying that the ANC “moered” the DA in Gauteng, chose to focus on vague statements about the role of public servants.
At these debates, the time allocated to politicians to speak is determined by their number of seats in the National Assembly. As a result, tiny parties get only a few minutes to make their voices heard. On Thursday, it was maiden speech time for the African Independent Congress and Agang. Leader of the former, Mandla Galo, angrily dismissed the suggestion that people had voted for the AIC because they had confused it at the ballot box with the ANC, saying that the party had won votes through its “pro-poor” policies.
Agang’s Mike Tshisonga, speaking at a time when the party seems to be lurching from one new scandal to the next, didn’t use his platform to allay any concerns. Instead, he delivered a strange, rambling address in which he said Agang had arrived in Parliament to chase away the darkness, and exhorted South Africans to clean their minds. Many would retort that Agang should focus on cleaning their shambolic internal affairs.
The PAC’s Alton Mpethi issued an appeal for the release of operatives of Apla (the Azanian People’s Liberation Army) who are still in prison for crimes committed during Apartheid. If Hani-killer Clive Derby-Lewis was to go free, Mpethi said, Apla fighters should do likewise. He singled out Kenny “Puliki” Motsamai, who has spent almost 25 years in jail for killing a white traffic officer in 1989.
But the small party which predictably won the lion’s share of attention was the EFF, who revealed themselves to be in tjatjarag mood early on. EFF MP Andile Mngxitama interrupted the Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Mulder to ask when “this thief” would “give us back our land”. Told that it was un-parliamentary to call an MP a thief, Mngxitama withdrew the comment.
EFF MP Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala delivered the most radical speech of the day. (If her name sounds familiar, that’s because Litchfield-Tshabalala was the first woman to be made a rear admiral in the SANDF, and subsequently resigned after being convicted in a military court of charges of fraud and assault.)
Litchfield-Tshabalala gave the strongest indication to date that the EFF is prepared to work with the ANC – under very specific terms. In the spirit of radical economic transformation, she said, the EFF would extend their hand to provide a two-thirds majority to change the Constitution. “That will allow you to finally put foreign white monopoly capital in its place – under political power,” Litchfield-Tshabalala proposed.
That wasn’t the most dramatic gesture of the day from the EFF, however. On Wednesday, Malema had been called up on a point of order for stating that it was the ANC government who killed the miners in Marikana. Chair Thandi Modise indicated that she would rule on the matter on Thursday. At the end of the Parliamentary session, she instructed Malema that he must withdraw the statement.
Malema refused. When the crime rate goes down, he contended, it is then said in Parliament that the government – not the police – has succeeded in bringing down the crime rate. Why should the same slippage between “government” and “police” not apply to the police’s negative actions, as in the case of Marikana? Modise reiterated that he must withdraw the statement.
Malema was not budging. “I maintain the ANC killed people in Marikana,” he said calmly. Modise said that in that case, she was left with no option but to instruct him to leave.
“No problem,” he replied. The party had clearly discussed – perhaps even counted on – this possibility in advance, because they rose as one to leave with their leader. As they exited, they yelled: “You murdered people in Marikana!”
One female EFF MP, brandishing a stick, shouted: “Thandi, you were the Premier” – a reference to the fact that Modise was serving as Premier of the North West at the time of the Massacre.
“Yes, I was the Premier,” Modise responded.
The EFF announced immediately afterwards that an urgent press conference would be held to discuss the matter, but then postponed it until Friday. After the MPs had left the Assembly, the ANC’s Mmamoloko Kubayi urged Modise to convene an investigation into the EFF for having brought Parliament into disrepute, and Modise indicated that she would consider doing so.
Malema could be back in his seat tomorrow – if he chooses to. The EFF won’t be out of hot water just yet, though, if Kubayi’s proposed investigation determines censure is necessary. Nonetheless, it’s probable that the party feels pretty satisfied about the day’s events. Just two days into the Parliament, they have succeeded in making a bold gesture of defiance, and sending a clear message that they do not intend to be bound to establishment rules. Exactly what their end-game is, however, is something that may only become clear after tomorrow’s press conference.
One figure expressing public approval of their stance was former Cope leader Mbhazima Shilowa, who tweeted that it “would have been a sad day” if Malema had withdrawn his comment. Shilowa said that if the ANC could speak of the Apartheid government’s massacres at Sharpeville and Boipatong, why was it any less correct to speak of the ANC government’s massacre at Marikana?
Amidst all this drama, the State of the Nation Address has been left to languish on the sidelines. But tomorrow it should take centre stage again, when President Jacob Zuma gets his chance to respond to the debate. As always, when Zuma takes the podium, nobody should expect anything particularly eye-opening. But will he use his platform to remind Parliament’s new upstarts who is boss? DM
Photo: EFF CIC Julius Malema at the opening of Parliament, 17 June 2014. (Greg Nicolson)
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