The president came out fighting in Parliament and responded spiritedly to much of the criticism levelled at him by several other party leaders.
A jovial President Jacob Zuma didn’t take the criticism levelled at him and his government this week lying down – he fought back on Thursday and refuted some of the allegations made against him by opposition parties.
The leader of the Democratic Alliance in Parliament, Mmusi Maimane, challenged Zuma on Wednesday to step up and show leadership or step aside. Maimane went on to present a to-do list for Zuma, which he said would prove his leadership capabilities if he carried them out.
On Thursday, Zuma took about 35 minutes to respond to the six-hour debate on the presidency’s budget, which took place on Wednesday.
In his response, Zuma lectured Maimane about how it was the ANC that had made it possible for people like Maimane to be in Parliament, and even to lead the opposition in Parliament.
He said Maimane and his family were very fortunate to be living in a free South Africa, a freedom that was attained through the blood, sweat and tears of many selfless freedom fighters, in a liberation struggle that was led by the ANC.
Through the hard work of the ANC government, young people were assured a better life, he said.
“Honourable Maimane and his family are better off in South Africa today because the ANC is running this country.
Freedom, with the ANC’s compliments
“The very fact that honourable Maimane is in Parliament today leading the opposition is due to the opportunities that freedom and democracy brought to young people in this country, thanks to the ANC.
“So honourable Maimane, enjoy the freedom brought to you by the ANC, with our full compliments, or step aside,” said Zuma to laughter and applause from the National Assembly.
Speaking off the cuff, Zuma also scoffed at criticism by Mosiuoa Lekota, the Congress of the People leader, who had questioned the wisdom of a decision to involve South Africa in financing the establishment of the Brics (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa) development bank.
In his speech, Lekota said Zuma took decisions while in Brazil to impose additional burdens on this country.
“Where are we going to get the $15-billion to contribute to the new bank?” he asked. “Our children and their children can only inherit debt of incredible proportions. It’s a sad situation,” Lekota said.
Zuma registered his disappointment with Lekota’s comments, saying he had hoped that political maturity would have convinced opposition leaders that this was the right thing to do.
“I thought that members would look at the establishment of the bank differently than looking at where shall we get the money from. Because this is a ground-breaking initiative by the developing world; it’s a first of its kind … a different bank from the ones you know, like the IMF [International Monetary Fund] or the World Bank,” he said.
Development for the developing world
He said that the bank was to be established specifically to look at the development of the developing world and would do things differently.
“I would have thought that we would have seen this as part of the developing countries beginning to stand on their own and do their own things; to finance their own operations rather than to depend on the banks that have existed for a long time.
“I thought that our political maturity would have said, ‘yes, at last, we are now standing on own’.”
He said African heads of states were excited about the bank and saw it as an opportunity to develop Africa without the “too many strings attached that have been there with us in our history”.
The capital contributions to the new development bank would come from the fiscus, he said. They would be similar to the ones the country makes to other multilateral institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank, of which it is a member.
South Africa’s initial contribution would be paid in capital of $150-million. This amount was part of the schedule of instalments agreed to by all members, Zuma said. The bank would complement existing sources of financing to cater for the ever-increasing development needs of energy, rail, road and other economic infrastructure.
Hospital under construction
Zuma also refuted claims by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, that the government had misled the people of Vhembe by promising to build them a hospital and the people of Giyani, who were promised clean running water.
“Actually, work has begun on the two key projects,” he said. The redevelopment of Siloam Hospital in Vhembe, a R750-million project , was being implemented in two stages, namely new staff housing and a 350-bed new district hospital.
The tender process had begun and it was anticipated that construction would begin in August next year. The new hospital was scheduled to be completed by April 2018, Zuma said.
He said the tenders for the building of the staff housing units closed on July 11 this year.
“So, the work has started,” said Zuma, giggling. “It will be good to check,” he added.
Zuma said that Giyani was water stressed as a result of a lack of proper maintenance of infrastructure.
“The Mopani district municipality is refurbishing the Giyani water works at a cost of R20-million. Work is expected to be completed by September 2014,” he said.
He announced that the former minister of social development and former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Zola Skweyiya, would be a second special envoy to the Middle East. He joins former deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad, whose name was announced early in the week.
South Africa would also contribute $1-million to humanitarian assistance there, Zuma said.