President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday told opposition leaders the ANC’s internal strife was none of their business when he answered questions in the national assembly after party secretary general Ace Magashule’s attempt to suspend him in retaliation for being told to step down.
Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip Floyd Shivambu interjected before Ramaphosa could speak to ask in what capacity he was appearing in the house given Magashule’s late night letter to the president, which the party has dismissed as invalid.
Deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli told Shivambu he had no idea what he was referring to and ordered him to sit down, but Democratic Alliance opposition leader John Steenhuisen returned to the subject later.
He accused Ramaphosa of neglecting the country’s Covid-19 vaccination imperatives and the prospect of a third wave of the pandemic because he was preoccupied with factional battles in the ANC.
“Do you really care? Because you are so wrapped up in the internal battles of the ANC while this pandemic rages across South Africa,” Steenhuisen almost shouted. “You’re busy waging a factional war while a third wave looms.”
He said many health workers have not been vaccinated yet, and the country lagged at position 33 on the continent when African vaccination programmes were compared.
“South Africans want to know when they’re getting vaccinated and you have failed them. So my question, given now that you’ve imperilled the lives of 800 000 healthcare workers and millions of vulnerable citizens as we head into winter and a third wave, will you take responsibility for the lives lost due to this failure?’’
Ramaphosa responded: “Let me just say without going through the waffle that he has just articulated here, waffle of factional battles and all that which has nothing to do with you.
“When you were involved in your own battles in the Democratic Alliance you never heard a single one of us say anything. We did not comment because it is not our space. What happens in the Democratic Alliance is your business, and what is happening in the ANC is also not your business. It is ANC business.”
Earlier on Thursday, Ramaphosa told a ruling party caucus meeting he was angered by Magashule’s stunt.
Responding further to Steenhuisen’s question on vaccination, he said South Africa’s programme — and its chosen reliance on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — had come up against unforeseen obstacles because, internationally, the use of the manufacturer’s product was halted first by safety concerns and then problems at a production facility.
“With that out of the way, South Africa had, like other nations, been short-changed when it sought to acquire vaccines,” he said.
“The mishaps that we have suffered have been completely out of our hands. The deaths of 60 people in the United States that got our own authority to say, stop the vaccination process, was completely unforeseen.”
He said critics believe the government should not have suspended use of the vaccine, but it chose to rely on scientific advice.
“You possibly would have wanted us to act like cowboys and just do whatever … we are not orientated that way,” he said.
“We have lost time, we know we have. Do we care? Of course we do … we have had our own both objective and subjective challenges.”
Again in reply to questions from the DA, Ramaphosa defended the ruling party’s policy of cadre deployment while conceding, as he did while testifying at the Zondo commission last week, that it has been abused in the past.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with cadre development. I did say at the Zondo commission that to the extent that we need to streamline it with professionalising our public service we are willing and prepared to do so.
“Sometimes you may appoint people thinking they are fit for purpose and they may be found wanting in one area or another.”
This was mostly a case of individuals who committed “missteps”, he qualified, but said the state was now committed to appointing well-qualified public servants who would not be driven by greed or outside interests.
“The days of state capture are over, and we now want people who are fit for purpose who will be able to act in the interest of all South Africans.
“We have been taking steps ever since the sixth administration started to root out corruption, to address malfeasance in government and we never really expected it to be done in one year, in one season.”