Let’s get straight into it. On Wednesday, President Jacob Zuma appeared in the National Assembly to answer oral questions for the first time since August last year. If you remember, the last session was halted when the EFF were chucked out of parliament for their now infamous “pay back the money” chant. Wednesday’s sitting, while not nearly as explosive as August’s sitting, produced its own drama. The president ditched his signature grin and chuckle for a more combative look—oscillating between restrained annoyance to open anger—and addressed everything from his truancy from parliament to the controversy surrounding his homestead in Nkandla. Here’s what happened:
“I’ve never dodged parliament”
Since the infamy of the 21st of August (when the president last took oral questions) the opposition have applied sustained pressure on parliament to have Zuma finish that round of questions. The entire episode reached its climax when the Democratic Alliance’s parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane put forward a censure (a formal expression of disapproval) against the President toward the end of last year. With parliament eventually voting against the proposed censure, Mmaimane assumed the podium with a renewed vigour on Wednesday. His question was simple enough: when would the President appear before parliament to answer the remaining questions from August’s sitting?
“Section 91 and 92 of the Constitution implore you to come answer to this house,” Mmaimane began. “My question is, are you willing—in the spirit of democracy and accountability—to commit to a day where the questions left over from the last time will be discussed accurately and fairly?” Zuma wasn’t impressed. The president accused Maimane of “lying to the country” while also stating the only reason he didn’t finish his session was because of the EFF’s disruption (and not because he was reneging on presidential responsibilities).
“Whenever parliament says I must come on anything, I do come. I’ve never refused,” Zuma retaliated. “You have been saying to the country (that I dodged Parliament). It is not true. I’ve never dodged. That’s a clear thing. I’ve never refused when Parliament said here is a date.” At this point, Number One had discarded all pretence of civility (at one point telling Maimane to keep quiet and let him finish answering). This was a sharp contrast to the giggling Zuma who delivered a measured address during his reply to the State of the Nation debate. The gloves were off.
Jacob Zuma ignores Baleka Mbete
While the president was giving Maimane a mouthful, the EFF’s national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi raised a point of order. Mbete, in her capacity as Speaker, could quite literally have stopped the president mid-speech, but instead displayed her bias and was reduced to a mere spectator in the president’s verbal assault against Maimane. Here’s how the drama played out:
Mbete: “Honourable President…”
Zuma (to Maimane): “This parliament did not act honourably to me…”
Mbete: “Honourable President…”
Zuma (to Maimane): “What you’ve been saying in public is not true. You’ve been saying that the president is avoiding and dodging questions. It’s absolutely not true!”
Mbete: “Mr President can I take a point of order?”
I think you get the point.
I’m not going to pay back the money
Say goodbye to the hashtag, everyone. Seven months after the EFF first questioned when Jacob Zuma would “pay back the money”, the president has finally offered his response. As it turns out, he won’t be repaying the money by means of EFT or cash or “e-wallet” (as the EFF famously suggested during the State of the Nation). In fact, the President won’t be paying altogether.
“Never have I ever thought on the date when I will pay back the money,” Zuma told EFF MP Natasha Louw. “Firstly, there is no money that I am going to be paying back without a determination by those who are authorised to do so, as recommended by the Public Protector,” said Zuma. He also added that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had, in fact, not said he should “pay back the money” but rather recommended that “where [there is] undue benefit to the family or myself, she thinks this money might be paid back. But this should be determined by the Minister of Police. That determination has not been done. Why do you say I should pay back the money? You don’t even know how much,” he concluded.
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Feature image from GCIS
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