From Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane boldy accusing the president of breaking the country, Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) Julius Malema reiterating the #PayBacktheMoney campaign and ANC MPs singing Jacob Zuma’s praises, the first day of the State of the Nation debate got off to a rocky but stable start.
With speaker Baleka Mbete noticeably absent from the assembly, the debate started with the DA and the EFF raising points of order regarding the minutes of the State of the Nation Address (Sona), which had been sent out with omissions, a situation that National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise quickly defused by promising to bring full minutes to the assembly tomorrow.
While Arts Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s speech had some MPs yawning, Maimane had them fired up when he called Zuma a broken man, with EFF MPs in vociferous support, while ANC MPs howled at him, calling into question his years of experience in Parliament and politics.
Maimane said Zuma was “a broken man presiding over a broken society”. What started as a moderate speech by Maimane became a booming call to question leadership, with him telling the president that he had broken Parliament five days ago at the Sona.
“We have allowed one powerful man to get away with too much for too long. This man is here in our presence today.
“You are willing to break every democratic institution to try and fix the legal predicament you find yourself in. You are willing to break this Parliament if it means escaping accountability for the wrongs you have done,” he said, addressing Zuma.
He berated the president for laughing during the scuffle in Parliament on Thursday, when EFF members were violently ejected from the chamber for insisting on asking Zuma about Nkandla.
“You laughed. You laughed while the people of South Africa cried for their beloved country. You laughed while trampling Madiba’s legacy – in the very week that we celebrated 25 years since his release. Honourable President, we will never forgive you for what you have done.”
He lamented the ejection of EFF MPs from Parliament last Thursday even louder than Malema, who chose to use the opportunity to sneak in his “pay back the money” campaign.
Maimane said Zuma had broken the economy, and this was the state of the broken society, “battling under the burdens of unemployment, crime, power cuts and an unequal education system”.
Like a Xhosa praise singer, MP Pemmy Majodina listed Zuma’s achievements and told him to relax because the country was behind him, prompting Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Narend Singh to ask her to lower her volume.
She accused people who said they could not see what role the president was playing in improving the country of being deliberately blind to his work.
Malema used the opportunity to express his displeasure with how the party was treated during the Sona last week.
“When we were [taken] away from the chambers, being assaulted, harassed and manhandled by the police, we know that you rhetorically mentioned the fact that 2015 represents the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, yet nothing you said connects government projects to the people’s manifesto and liberation programme – the Freedom Charter.
“You said, ‘The year 2015 is the year of the Freedom Charter and unity in action to advance economic freedom. It is the year of going the extra mile in building a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, before our leadership of the youth movement, there was no mention of economic freedom in the former liberation movement and its entire literature.”
Malema said Zuma’s speech was not consistent with the Freedom Charter.
“What you said here in our absence, and when the police were assaulting women, breaking their jaws and fracturing their chins, pulling us by our private parts, is not consistent with what the Freedom Charter says, and we are here back in these chambers to expose you to that reality.
“The NDP: Vision 2030 is the official programme of the ANC, adopted in your 53rd National Conference, and this programme is light-years away from the Freedom Charter, thus mention of it is meant to mislead the people of South Africa.”
Malema said, “The Freedom Charter says ‘the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole’ and in your address here, you never said anything about transfer of banks to the people, but complained about banking fees.
“You never said anything about the transfer of Mines and Minerals to the people, but referred the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act because white monopoly capital in the form of Total and Exxon Mobil said they do not agree with the Act.”
The sitting, which had significantly fewer hard hats present, included MPs calling each other pigs, foreigners and DA MP Phumzile van Damme having to retract after saying “sies” to Free State Premier Ace Magashule when he asked if she was South African.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi had MPs in stitches as he congratulated his party for 40 years of existence, talking about his role in politics, mere minutes after he had stated that the debate was a platform to talk about Zuma’s speech.
Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan said while local government had made differences in enhancing service delivery to the poor, there was still a lot to be done.
“And we as the ANC do not hide from that. Challenges such as increase in inward migration and urbanisation into our cities. Basic service delivery backlogs, infrastructure maintenance. In addressing these challenges we will recognise that different municipalities are at different levels of development, in terms of their capacity.
“We want to radically transform the way in which municipalities operate. Our injunction to all municipalities, regardless of which political party runs them, is to listen to the people and put them first, and ensure good governance in municipalities,” Gordhan said.
“Ensure services are delivered in way they should be. We will ensure there are changes taking place in the urban environment in South Africa. We are establishing an intergovernmental forum to engage metros, and large cities to deal specific challenges they face.”
During his speech, Magashule had EFF and DA MPs protesting, raising points of order and shouting across the room as he talked about the past lives of some MPs.
His allocated 10 minutes became almost 30 minutes of chaotic protests within the chamber, with Modise trying to keep the peace.
When DA chief whip John Steenhuisen took to the podium, he chucked his speech and instead used the time allocated to “roast” the previous speakers on their different points.
The debate was finished off by Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel, who waxed lyrical about government’s successes and economic development, while admitting there were still lessons to be learnt.