/ 26 November 2014

EFF to disrupt Sona if Zuma continues his no-show

The acrimonious relationship between the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and Economic Freedom Fighters MP Floyd Shivambu came to a head on Wednesday afternoon with Mbete reminding Shivambu that as an African child, he had to respect her. 

This was at a meeting of the National Assembly’s programme committee where opposition parties disagreed with Mbete about what should be on the programme of the assembly’s last sitting on Thursday.

The opposition parties demanded that President Jacob Zuma be called to answer oral questions before the House adjourns for Christmas holidays, but Mbete and the ANC reiterated that a failure by opposition MPs to give assurances of a conducive climate for Zuma to answer questions, has made it difficult for the president to be in Parliament. 

Shivambu urged Mbete to ensure that Zuma comes to Parliament to answer questions before the end of the year. He threatened that a failure to do so will see EFF MPs disrupting the state of the nation address (Sona) in an attempt to force Zuma to answer questions at the event. 

The Sona is one of the key events in the calendar of the South African Parliament. It is scheduled for February 12 and normally, the president addresses the joint sitting without any interruptions. A debate on his address is then held over two days, following the address. 

“The next time he comes here, he is going to answer questions whether he likes it or not … whether it is state of the nation address or whatever gathering it is. There won’t be a Jacob Zuma who speaks here before he answers questions, that is the commitment of the EFF,” said Shivambu. 

‘You are not my mother’
He then addressed Mbete by her first name, saying she knew that the EFF was not intimidated by the ANC. Mbete snapped. “Angiyona intanga yakho, Floyd. [I’m not your peer, Floyd]. “You are an African child, brought up by people I respect. And I’m quite sure you are not reflecting the way they brought you up. 

Shivambu responded: “This is a professional relationship. This is not a mother and child relationship. You are not my mother.” 

Shivambu said as members of Parliament, they were equals and they could engage openly and honestly without raising issues of culture. The meeting was heated throughout, but in the end the ANC made several concessions but would not give in on the major issue raised by the opposition – calling Zuma to account before the end of this year. 

Mbete assured MPs that she also wanted Zuma to answer oral questions in the National Assembly. “I have pursued the presidency on the issue of finding a date when the president can come and answer questions,” she said. 

She reminded MPs of their role on the last occasion that the president was in the National Assembly to answer questions. “He sat in the holding room here in Parliament, hoping that he would be called back to the House to finish off the questions that were on the order paper that day, but we couldn’t,” she revealed. 

‘Pay back the money’
EFF MPs chanted to Zuma to pay back the money spent on non-security measures at his private home in Nkandla, after he failed to respond to a question on when he would make the repayments as recommended by the public protector. 

Mbete also revealed that she stopped engaging with the presidency about Zuma coming to Parliament when the opposition parties started meeting with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa last week. She said matters became complicated when that process was scuttled by opposition parties who refused to give assurances that Zuma won’t be heckled. 

In the meeting on Wednesday, MPs wanted to know if there were any assurances on whether Zuma would deliver the Sona in February, seeing that he wants assurances before appearing in Parliament. 

EFF MP Godrich Gardee asked: “If you are saying that the president is awaiting for assurance for him to come to Parliament, to ensure that he will not go through what he went through on August 21 … and the state of the nation address is coming, does the president have assurance?”

Gardee said Zuma was creating a constitutional crisis because it was “peremptory and obligatory” and not by choice whether he comes to Parliament or not. “Heckling and shouting is found in Parliaments throughout the world. He can’t say he can’t be heckled and shouted at when people feel like the president is out of order,” he added. 

Gardee also blamed Mbete and Parliament for being complicit in Zuma’s “unconstitutional conduct”, the refusal to come to Parliament waiting for assurances. “We are very quick in having other unfinished business being finished, but not on the one of the president to come and finish his business.” 

This was speaking in reference to a report of the powers and privileges committees, which found EFF MPs guilty of contempt of Parliament by chanting “pay back the money” at Zuma, and which proposes sanctions of up to 30 days suspension from Parliament without pay. The report is set to be adopted by the National Assembly during Thursday’s sitting, and this will see the sanctions against EFF MPs kicking in the following day. 

Constitutional obligations
Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder warned Mbete, saying the process that the opposition parties had with Ramaphosa could never have been about the president not fulfilling his constitutional obligations.

Mulder also noted a press statement issued by the presidency on Tuesday that insisted that Zuma had fulfilled his parliamentary obligations as “shocking and misleading” to South Africans because it created an impression that when Zuma pitches up in Parliament, he is fulfilling that obligation. “He doesn’t,” said Mulder. 

Mulder also wanted to know whether Zuma would deliver the Sona, in the light of the assurances that he wants. He urged Mbete to explain parliamentary rules and the constitution to Zuma, adding: “I hope that the people who drafted that statement yesterday are not the people advising the president.” 

Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane was also “disturbed” by the presidency’s statement saying that it was misleading. He said it was wrong to spend millions of taxpayers’ money to reconvene Parliament for one report and then not call the president on the basis that a deal with opposition was scuttled. “If we are going to call a special sitting to consider one report, surely we can call in the same sitting for the president to come and complete question session as is his constitutional duty and as per the rules of this Parliament,” said Maimane. 

Mbete dug in her heels about Zuma, but conceded on a number of issues on the programme. The report dealing with the EFF MPs was only going to be considered or adopted without a debate; but at the request of the DA, an 85-minute debate will be held on the matter. 

Opposition parties have rejected the findings against EFF MPs and have questioned the “harsh” sanctions. The ANC also agreed to a snap debate that was also proposed by the DA on the escalating crisis at Eskom. 

The DA’s Natasha Michael requested the debate on Wednesday afternoon, and it was granted in unprecedented time – less than three hours after the request was made. The house will also have members’ statements, which are basically political statements about current affairs and farewell speeches will also be held as Thursday’s is the last scheduled sitting for this year.