It was never going to be a dull day in Parliament with President Zuma taking questions from the house. Six questions were agreed upon in writing, but as usual MPs veered from the schedule to unleash a few surprises. RA’EESA PATHER rounds up six eyebrow-raising moments from Wednesday’s session.
1. Zuma fires off at Maimane
Zuma’s eyes are fixed on Maimane, who doesn’t know what to do while EFF interjecting. Mbete doesn’t know what to do either. #ZumaQuestions
— Ranjeni Munusamy (@RanjeniM) March 11, 2015
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane had only one question for Zuma – when, exactly, would Zuma return to the National Assembly to answer oral questions as per Rule 111(1)(a). “I’m not giving you a date, I don’t give dates,” Zuma answered. Maimane went on to accuse Zuma of dodging Parliament throughout 2014. The president had been absent from the House since August last year, until he appeared in February 2015 for his State of the Nation address. In a departure from his usually cool countenance and animated chuckle, Zuma argued that he had never been called to Parliament and that he had always agreed to come to Parliament when the House set a date. “You have been saying I have been dodging Parliament and I’m saying it’s not true. This is what you have fed the county – an untruth!” Zuma said to MPs. Even speaker of the house Baleka Mbete seemed slightly alarmed by the president’s change of demeanor. 2. Mbete tells Zuma to sit down
Zuma ploughed on with his response to Maimane’s questions, as members of the Democratic Alliance began to mutter among themselves and EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi got to his feet on a point of order.
The president determinedly spoke on and eventually Mbete asked him to sit down so she could take a point of order. When the speaker asks you to sit down so she can address a point of order, you should really sit down. But Zuma powered on, raising questions as to why the president was exempt from the rules of the House.
But the answer, apparently, was simple.
When Zuma was later asked why he had not listened to the speaker he said he never heard Mbete request him to stop speaking because MPs were shouting over him.
3. Honourable President, when will you pay back the money?
— Jacaranda Newsteam (@JacaNews) March 11, 2015
It’s the question everyone has been asking, and of course the president came prepared. He said that public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the Nkandla investigation was not a court judgment. “Recommendations are recommendations, not verdicts,” Zuma said of the public protector’s report. Zuma added that how much he should pay back has not been determined and if and when he should pay back the money could only be decided by the minister of police. But constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos had a recommendation of his own for the president.
High Court: the fact that remedial action taken by the PP not binding does not mean that findings & remedial action are mere recommendations — Pierre de Vos (@pierredevos) March 11, 2015
4. “I withdraw my finger”
It was perhaps one of the most cringeworthy moments to be witnessed in the House.
“The president is pointing his finger at me and in my culture and in my understanding, that is disrespectful,” EFF MP Natasha Louw said, as she pointed her finger.
The president had been pointing while he addressed her question on the Nkandla money. He withdrew the gesture with a provocative choice of words:
“I withdraw my finger,” Zuma said with a chuckle.
This isn’t the first time finger gestures have caused conflict in Parliament. Just last year the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu flipped the bird at Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
5. Holomisa takes on Zuma – and loses
Zuma is dismissing Holomisa for ducks like he’s England’s batting line-up. #ZumaQuestions
— T. O. (@TOMolefe) March 11, 2015
The president of the United Democratic Movement brazenly asked Zuma if it would be appropriate for the president to “take a sabbatical” pending allegations against him. But Zuma chuckled as he answered, saying that there he wasn’t being investigated for anything. Holomisa continued, asking the about the “tapes that are before courts”, but Zuma maintained that was “not an investigation” and asked Holomisa if there were any other charges he had in mind. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very good day out for the UDM leader.
6. Who is equal?
One of the more controversial moments of #ZumaQandA was when Mbete spoke about equality in the House.
“President Zuma is not our equal here, in the same way that Honourable Buthulezi is not our equal,” Mbete said.
Mbete used the comparison to Buthelezi to refer to respect for Zuma’s seniority, but many took Mbete’s words out of context. Floyd Shivambu rose to say everyone is equal under the Constitution.
Although seniority can determine cultural codes of respect – which especially apply to African traditions where younger generations are instilled with respect for their elders – the rules of Parliament apply to all members of the House, without exception.
“We are equal members here. This is a professional matter, not a cultural matter,” Floyd Shivambu last year told Mbete.
In the end, Zuma managed to come through the question session unscathed. He is scheduled to appear before Parliament three more times this year, and we can likely expect similar drama when next he returns.