Parliament rejects motion to censure Zuma over no-show

MPs voted against a motion to censure President Jacob Zuma. (Pictures by David Harrison, M&G)

MPs voted against a motion to censure President Jacob Zuma. (Pictures by David Harrison, M&G)

The National Assembly rejected a motion to censure President Jacob Zuma for an alleged failure to comply with the rules of the House.

The matter was decided on in a vote where 217 MPs voted against the censure as opposed to 78 who voted for it.

The vote followed a heated debate about Zuma’s failure to answer oral questions in the National Assembly since August 21 when the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs chanted that he pay back the money spent at the non-security upgrades at his private home in Nkandla.

Most of the opposition parties accused Zuma of undermining the Constitution, which prescribes that he must account to Parliament, and he is also accused of flouting parliamentary rules, which dictate that he should answer questions to the National Assembly four times a year – once in each quarter.

ANC MPs defended Zuma and blamed his failure to come to Parliament on his busy schedule. They also blamed a climate that was not conducive in the House and a misunderstanding of the law by opposition MPs who demanded that the president be censured.

The debate came less than two days since a deal was brokered by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, as leader of government business, between the ruling party and the opposition party, to set aside the verbal wars and disruptions in the House.

Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, on whose name the motion was tabled, led the opposition’s charge. He described the meeting with Ramaphosa as positive as they had agreed at the meeting that the rules of Parliament needed to be applied in a fair and consistent way, and that this was the only way that any MP could have confidence in the presiding officers.

“We will participate fully in the informal committee of political leaders formed at yesterday’s meeting, but let me make it clear that our participation does not mean we will be co-opted,” he said.

Crisis could have been avoided
Maimane said the parliamentary crisis that saw the public order police barge into the National Assembly while it was in session to remove EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela from the House, could have been avoided had the rules been fairly applied.

“And most importantly, if the president obeyed the rules of Parliament and came here to answer oral questions, it would not have happened. That is what is at the heart of all of this – our president is absent without leave,” he said.

Maimane said Zuma was failing to fulfil his constitutional obligation to appear in Parliament, and the majority of the House was turning a blind eye to protect him.

He said while heartened by Ramaphosa’s statement reaffirming the principle of executive accountability and that all members of the executive were to appear before Parliament as required by the rules, he had failed to provide a date for when Zuma will appear. 

He then called on MPs to vote with the DA for the censure of the president. 

“Honourable members, vote with us to send President Zuma a message – that this is the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, a proud and independent defender of the Constitution – and we will not be pushed over. Vote with us to uphold the Constitution and the spirit in which it was written,” he said.

ANC MPs defend Zuma
The ANC came out guns blazing in Zuma’s defence. In an interesting move, ANC MPs came down hard on Maimane and the DA, and not so much on the EFF, which the ANC has in the past blamed for all the chaos in Parliament over the past few months.

Senior ANC MP Mathole Motshekga blamed Maimane for everything that is wrong with Parliament.

He said the ANC was completely taken aback by the DA’s decision to proceed with the motion of censure against Zuma, despite the agreement with Ramaphosa. “Renegading on this agreement a mere 24 hours after it was reached, the DA acted dishonestly, dishonourably and undermined the entire political intervention by the honourable deputy president. 

He said the dishonest and dishonourable conduct of the DA confirmed that they are responsible for the destruction of the dignity, integrity and the standing of Parliament.

The conduct of the DA has brought this Parliament and our country into disrepute, destroying the culture of substantive quality debates and introducing insulting language and personal attacks on the speaker of the House and the president.

“I therefore stand here on behalf of the ANC, our glorious movement to bury the motion of censure and to call for the revival of the report of the powers and privileges committee,” said Motshekga.

The Powers and privileges report was put aside, as part of the agreement between Ramaphosa and the opposition parties, while trying to seek a political solution. The report recommended that EFF MPs be suspended from Parliament, some for 30 days and others for 14 days without pay. Motshekga then declared that the agreement with Ramaphosa was null and void. 

“The conduct of Honourable Maimane has rendered yesterday’s agreement meaningless, unworkable and null and void,” declared Motshekga. He concluded by saying there was no legal or factual basis for Parliament to censure Zuma.

‘Disruptive stunt’
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was also critical of the DA in her speech. She claimed that it was five male MPs from the DA who were responsible for the chaos in the House. She suggested that the EFF was also to blame. 

“In order to understand the reasoning behind this motion, we need to go back to the questions about what happened on our way to the fifth Parliament of our country. 

“Immediately after the conclusion of our elections earlier this year, we had some among the parties represented here vowing to bring a disruptive stint to this term of Parliament. 

“This was characterised by pronouncements ranging such simple matters as the dressing code, refusal to accept official accommodation in Parliament, to the grand scheme of frustrating Parliament to move on any issue utilising its own rules,” she said.

“We also had certain members, who continue to push a motion of no confidence in the president, which they started in the previous term, despite the fact that this president had just been re-elected and given the real motion of confidence by the people that matter, the voters of this country. 

“This, however, did not stop them because what they were really after was something not about the people, or the rules of this House. It was bigger. It is the main event. That was to render the house unworkable,” said Mapisa-Nqakula. 

“Why is it that when clear demonstration of ungovernability and disregard of rules is done day in day out in the House by members of the opposition, we are ending up discussing the sanctioning of the president for infringing the rules?” she asked.

“Why is it that when members of the opposition standup each time to hackle members of the executive and not allow them to speak and account, then the executive must be sanctioned for not coming to appear and speak and account?” she added.

She said the opposition and its big intention to collapse the government was the cause of the non-appearance of the executive. She referred to this as “the main event”.

EFF’s calm speech to the ANC
The biggest surprise of the evening came from the EFF MP Sipho Mbatha, who delivered a calm and heartfelt speech directed at the ANC. 

“The EFF does not have permanent friends; we have permanent interests,” begun Mbatha, in what appeared to be the EFF distancing itself from the DA. “If the agreement falls apart, the biggest losers are us. We would like to state that we support the agreement facilitated by the deputy president …” he said.

However, Mbatha said the EFF would not allow being bullied just because they are young. He called on the ANC to take a step back “and look at everything we say, and everything we put forward, we are not a destruction machine. We are not a bomb waiting to happen”.

“All we ever wanted was for our views to be known because we were voted here and if that is a problem, then you have [a] different interpretation for democracy,” he said almost pleading with the ANC.

“Please spare a moment and think about the things we believe in and undertake to understand where we come from,” added Mbatha. He said the EFF was willing to work with the ANC if it shared their views, which were not illegal.

He referred the ANC to its own policy document from the 1991 national conference titled “Ready to Govern” saying the majority of EFF demands are in that document.

“All we ever wanted was to be told that we have views, not to be rubbished and not to be ignored,” he added to applause from ANC benches.

Undermining multiparty efforts
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa, in a statement, said the decision by the DA to proceed with the motion to censure Zuma had undermined multiparty efforts to resolve the situation in Parliament.

“The DA’s decision to proceed with the censure motion is inconsistent with the understanding reached in the meeting of party leaders in Tuynhuys. It goes to the heart of the need for the political solution the DA committed to during yesterday’s meeting,” said Ramaphosa in a statement. 

“All parties represented at that meeting agreed to a process that would seek a political solution to the untenable situation in Parliament. They consequently agreed that various parliamentary processes be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the multiparty engagement.” 

Ramaphosa said the DA’s motion violated the spirit of this agreement.

“We are not going to be successful in restoring the dignity, integrity and standing of Parliament if parties cannot trust each other to honour their undertakings,” he said. 

Parliament is rising on Friday for Christmas holidays.

Hiring a sangoma
The debate started three-and-a-half hours late on Wednesday evening after ANC MPs employed the same filibustering tactics that the DA and EFF used to delay the adoption of the Nkandla report last Thursday. The motions normally take about 15 minutes, though there is no rule that puts a timeframe to motions by MPs.

MPs took more than two hours to table notices of motions, among those were motions for the House to debate the behaviour of its MPs generally and ways to seek a solution to the chaotic sittings.

AgangSA’s Andries Tlouamma tabled a motion for Parliament to hire services of a sangoma who will “check whether honourable members are not bewitched or if they are not suffering from a mental illness”. 

Tlouamma said the sangoma would also help them focus on their real job as MPs. 

There were no objections to this motion.



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