When political parties across the spectrum negotiated a settlement for the country to transition from Apartheid to democracy, it was hailed across the world. Parties in Parliament also negotiated one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. The ANC of today is a long way from the organisation it was back then, but surely there must be some realisation that that continued confrontations over Nkandla will lead to a complete breakdown of Parliament. After yet another tumultuous parliamentary session when President Jacob Zuma was meant to answer questions, the House was suspended without any work being done. It is time to find a way out – through negotiations and some compromises. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
When Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema addressed The Gathering last week, he vowed not to let up on the Nkandla issue until President Jacob Zuma paid back the money for non-security upgrades, in line with the Public Protector’s report. Earlier this month, we asked here how it was that Nkandla was still being kept alive and why nobody in the ANC had found a way to shut the matter down. We stated then: “Zuma is due to answer questions in Parliament on 18 June and this will not doubt be another tumultuous session with #paybackthemoney back on trend.”
It is not that difficult to predict that that’s the way every one of Zuma’s appearances in the National Assembly will turn out. At The Gathering, Malema said Zuma got off lightly during the presidency’s budget vote in May, when he made his now famous speech, mocking the way people harp on about “Nkaaandlaa”. Malema said had he been in the House (he has been on study leave since April), Zuma would not have gotten away with ridiculing people’s preoccupation with Nkandla.
Thursday was Zuma’s first re-appearance in the National Assembly after the release of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s report on 28 May, in which he concluded that the president did not have to pay anything towards the upgrades. Zuma had six questions to respond to, none of which were from the EFF and none related to Nkandla. But before he could utter a word at the podium, the EFF’s Makoti Khawula rose on a point of order and, speaking in Zulu, implored the president to tell the nation when he would comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations.
EFF national spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi took over the baton from her, saying the president had made a mockery of Parliament at his last appearance. “Zuma ridicules Parliament… he doesn’t take this Parliament seriously. He doesn’t take his mandate seriously,” Ndlozi said. “The other side (the ANC) laugh as if we are in some Trevor Noah show here.”
Speaker Baleka Mbete refused to acknowledge Ndlozi’s point of order and tried get him to sit down. From then on, the House descended into a shouting match with EFF MPs including Malema, secretary general Godrich Gardee and chief whip Floyd Shivambu joining the fray. When Mbete did allow ANC chief whip Stone Sizani to rise on a point of order, Malema protested, wanting to know why Ndlozi had not been allowed to do so.
“He must be recognised. There is nothing special here,” Malema shouted. “I will not take instructions from you. There is nothing special about you,” he told Sizani.
Mbete suspended the proceedings for what was meant to be a “brief” adjournment to allow the whips of all the parties to discuss the way forward. After a break of over 90 minutes, the House was called back in session. ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude informed the House that all the parties except for the EFF had agreed to go ahead with proceedings. She said the EFF wanted Zuma to apologise for ridiculing members during the presidency budget vote and also wanted a multiparty peace process that was being facilitated by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to be revived. (Ramaphosa had been trying to facilitate a settlement on the Nkandla matter but the arrangement fell through.)
Democratic Alliance (DA) chief whip John Steenhuisen said Zuma had insulted MPs by mocking their accents but that a functioning Parliament was necessary to hold him accountable. “Parliament remains one of the few institutions not captured by the state. We want Zuma to pay back the money but it is only Zuma and the executive who benefit when this House collapses,” Steenhuisen said. He said they had fought hard to get the president into Parliament and therefore he should be allowed to answer the questions he was set down to answer.
Shivambu said they wanted Zuma to give a definite date and time as to when he would pay back the money. He said the EFF would never accept Nhleko’s report or that more money should be paid to upgrade security at the president’s home.
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota said the chaos was the president’s fault. “When Public Protector said he should pay, he should have done it… We can’t have this individual acting like he’s boss of his own house.” Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the House should vote on whether the session continued according to the order paper, but Malema objected, saying they were not “voting cattle” and proposed that Zuma started his answers by addressing the Nkandla matter.
When Mbete refused this, the EFF began chanting “Pay back the money!” She was forced to adjourn the House, without the president being able to utter a word. Mbete was unable to call in police to remove MPs, as she had done previously, as the Western Cape High Court had ruled that she was not allowed to do so. She said Parliament now had to go back to the drawing board to find a way forward.
Sizani’s office issued a statement accusing the EFF of “indulging in an orgy of publicity stunts” and said it was “gravely unfortunate that the repugnant conduct of one party” prevented Zuma from accounting to the nation. (The irony of the ANC itself saying that one party was preventing the president from accounting to nation was obviously missed.)
ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa also issued a statement saying: “Incidences such as the ones witnessed today are an attack on our democracy and our Constitution which props it up. They are also not sustainable and render the proper functioning of Parliament difficult. Exercising oversight over the executive and representing our people cannot and should not mean enmity and chaos.”
The EFF also issued a statement saying “those who want us to move on beyond the Nkandla question are complicit in the undermining of the rule of law”.
“The EFF will never accept a situation that it is business as usual when it comes to the Nkandla question because… the protection of corruption will lead to the collapse our democracy. The EFF knows that many post-colonial countries degenerated the day citizens allowed the protection of one individual above the Constitution and the rule of law.”
The DA said they would not relent in the fight to have the president repay a fair portion of the undue benefits at Nkandla but Thursday’s sitting was neither the time nor the place to raise this issue. “The EFF were well aware that the issue of Nkandla was not up for discussion today, but as a result of their obstinate insistence that the matter be discussed the agreed upon programme was unnecessarily delayed and proceedings ultimately adjourned.”
And so, like after the commotion during the State of the Nation Address, everyone feels churned up with no clear way forward. And it is going to get worse once the ad hoc committee begins the process of processing Nhleko’s report. This is bound to stir up acrimony from most of the opposition parties again, not just the EFF.
During Thursday’s session, Zuma sat impassively and watched the turmoil unfold. The ANC caucus was helpless and clearly had no strategy to deal with the upheaval. Their majority in Parliament is powerless against the determination of the EFF to pursue the matter at every opportunity.
Surely the time has come for a negotiated settlement, or the chaos and disruptions to parliamentary business is destined to continue for the next four years. If the ANC was able to lead negotiations with the Apartheid regime to ensure a peaceful, stable democracy, surely it can find a way to settle the Nkandla matter and rescue Parliament. The major hurdle, of course, will be that in any process of negotiations, there has to be compromises. And with Zuma being unwilling to move an inch on the Nkandla matter, it gives the ANC no space to manoeuvre.
During the meeting of whips, the EFF indicated that they wanted to resurrect Ramaphosa’s multiparty peace process. This gives the ANC an opening to shift both Zuma and the EFF from their positions of no compromise. But that will take political will and courage from people in the ANC to stand up to the president. The only way to close this messy saga is to acknowledge that there were wrongs committed and take responsibility for it.
This will not be surrendering to the EFF, but putting the interests of Parliament, the country and the ANC above the protection of the president. It might even restore the dignity of the Presidency, the image and standing of which has been heavily compromised by the Nkandla matter.
There are really no more options. Something has to give. DM
Photo: Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete reacts during an answering of questions session by South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament, Cape Town, 11 March 2015. EPA/NIC BOTHMA/POOL
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.