No laughing matter: Zuma fights back in Parliament

President Jacob Zuma went as far as raising his voice and defying a request from the Speaker Baleka Mbete to sit down as he answered a question from the DA. (All pictures by David Harrison, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma went as far as raising his voice and defying a request from the Speaker Baleka Mbete to sit down as he answered a question from the DA. (All pictures by David Harrison, M&G)

Gone was the normally amicable, giggly and laid-back President Jacob Zuma as the head of state took members of Parliament to task for howling and interrupting him during his first oral question session of the year in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

An irritated Zuma admonished the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front Plus MPs over several contentious issues, from when was going to pay back the money spent on security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead to allegations that he had been dodging Parliament since August 21 last year. 

Zuma went as far as raising his voice and defying a request from the Speaker Baleka Mbete to sit down as he answered a question from the DA on when he would appear in the National Assembly to answer questions, speaking over several points of orders from the official opposition and the EFF. 

A defiant and authoritative Zuma said he had not given a thought as to when he would be paying the money. 

Responding to a question posed by EFF MP Natasha Louw, who wanted to know if he had given thought to targeting his machine to pay back the money, Zuma said the question was premature. “There is no money that I will be paying back without a determination by those who are authorised to do so, as recommended by the public protector. When you ask these questions, you were in fact moving ahead of the parliamentary process which was dealing with that very issue and I said so on that day (August 21). 

Paying back funds
“Public protector has not said pay back the money, public protector has said because there was what in her view were undue benefits to the family and myself, she thinks this money might be paid back but it should be determined by the minister of police. That determination has not been done. 

“Why do you say I must pay back the money when you don’t even know how much, you don’t even know whether the final answer will be that I must pay back the money?” he said to loud applause from the ruling party MPs. 

The oral question session was delayed by an hour as several opposition party MPs pleaded with Mbete to commit to discussing an additional date for the president to appear in the National Assembly. MPs heckled, gestured and shouted across the room at each other as the speaker refused to commit, and said the possibility would be discussed in the programming committee on Thursday, while Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi called for calm. 

Shouts of “sies”,  and calls for MPs to sit down could be heard from the floor as the issue of the date was debated for an hour, while Mbete pleaded with the MPs to let the matter rest until the committee meeting in the morning. 

Dodging Parliament
Earlier in the session, Zuma admonished FFP chief whip Corne Mulder for saying he had dodged Parliament, allegations that the president said were very serious. “Honourable Mulder is making very serious allegations that I did not come to Parliament in November.
Parliament has never set a date for me to come, and I have not come. Whatever the occasion, Parliament does not just wake up and say this is now the quarter I must go answer questions. 

“Parliament meets in its own processes and determines dates, and informs the presidency on the dates. They are agreed to and I come. There was never a date put, you are making a very serious allegation that I violated the rules of Parliament by not coming. There must be a date put and it must be on order paper. I have never dodged Parliament. 

“I have an opportunity today to answer for myself. You have been saying that I have been dodging Parliament and that is not true. You have been saying this president does not want to account, you have fed the country an untruth.” 

Interference in justice system
When EFF leader Julius Malema said there was an impression created that criminal justice institutions were destabilised as a result of Zuma’s interference as he wanted to protect himself from prosecution, the president said he has never interfered with any institution and had no intentions of doing so in the future. “I have no case against me. The NPA dropped the case, not influenced by me, on its own accord. There is no case against me about Nkandla nor pending arrests. Nothing.” 

In the session, which was almost four hours long, the president was also questioned about the progress of Operation Phakisa and the implementation of a cabinet resolution that chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution be amended to prevent the obliteration of the powers and functions of traditional leaders and traditional institutions of government.   

He also defended media reports that he had said that teenage mothers should be separated from their babies and sent to Robben Island and said he had merely been referring to his campaign in 2009. 

Meanwhile, two hours before Zuma’s oral questions session, a Media 24 journalist, Jan Gerber, was left bruised and shaken after he was blocked by five unidentified men in “white shirts” outside Parliament while taking pictures of public order policing vans. 

Gerber was dragged to the ground and made to delete his pictures by the five, who only identified themselves as members of the VIP protection service. DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the incident was a serious infringement of the media freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and said he would raise the issue at the next Parliament Oversight Authority (POA) meeting.

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