The “nine-point plan” is President Jacob Zuma’s mantra whenever he talks about the economy. He announced the plan in the 2015 State of the Nation Address to boost economic growth and create jobs. It turns out that the president does not actually know what the nine points are. Zuma returned to Parliament on Thursday for the first time since the elections to another hostile reception from the opposition. Apart from exposing his ignorance about his own plan, Zuma took a dig at his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa for saying government was at war with itself and defended Dudu Myeni’s “work” at SAA. And then he told the House to stop being abusive towards him. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It could not have been incidental that President Jacob Zuma paid back the money for the non-security upgrades at Nkandla before he was to reappear in Parliament after several months to answer questions. The #PayBackTheMoney chant by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has haunted his parliamentary appearances for two years. It must have been something of a relief for Zuma to be able to appear in the House on Tuesday without being confronted with questions from opposition parties about if and when he would be reimbursing the state.
But the legacy of Nkandla lives on and continues to hover over Zuma.
The Constitutional Court judgment in the Nkandla matter that found that the president had violated the Constitution was now the point of contention for the EFF and Congress of the People. As the president walked to the podium, Cope MP Willie Madisha objected to him addressing the House. He said Zuma was no longer “honourable” and should indicate when he would be resigning. Cope walked out of the House when Speaker Baleka Mbete refused to entertain their objection.
As Zuma uttered his first words, EFF leader Julius Malema was on his feet. He said the EFF had written to Mbete demanding that she prevent Zuma from answering questions in the National Assembly. The EFF had requested that Parliament institute disciplinary procedures against the president based on the Constitutional Court judgment.
“The only correct interpretation of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Mr Zuma is that he has broken the oath of office and violated the Constitution. This therefore renders him personally and individually unsuitable to occupy the office of President of the Republic of South Africa,” the EFF said in the letter to Mbete. “If Parliament continues to treat Mr Zuma like a legitimate president, the institution will be undermining the Constitution; violating the oath that establishes the Office of President, and denigrating South Africa’s constitutional democracy.”
Mbete’s response was to spell out the procedures for the removal of a president from office. This led to points of order and a volley of insults from EFF MPs, including that the president was a “thief” and a “criminal”. Mbete tried unsuccessfully to get the House to quieten down.
“I am not going to allow a criminal to speak in this House,” Malema shouted. “You must tell Zuma to leave!”
The EFF eventually staged a walkout, with Malema saying:
“We will leave because we are not prepared to listen to this criminal. We will come back when the criminal is gone… We are just going to the loo because we are avoiding the criminal.”
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu objected to the EFF calling Zuma a thief and a criminal, saying:
“The president is here not to be ridiculed but to answer questions in this House. He is here to be accountable.”
Photo: Members of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party stage a walkout during President Jacob Zuma’s question and answer session in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
After sitting behind the podium for 36 minutes watching the commotion, Zuma was then able to begin speaking. He seemed unbothered by the earlier chaos and stream of insults, periodically laughing, for no apparent reason.
Zuma read out a 580-word response to a question from the ANC about government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework and the nine-point plan to boost economic growth. In a supplementary question, the DA’s David Maynier asked Zuma what the nine points in his plan were. Zuma’s response was that he has talked about the plan many times and Maynier should know what the nine points were.
“The nine-point plan includes agriculture and many others,” Zuma said.
“The president is clearly clueless about the nine points in his nine-point plan,” Maynier said in response.
Considering that this is a flagship government programme to turn around the economy and the most cited strategy by Zuma himself, it is shocking that he does not know the details of the plan. Clearly he reads the script without comprehending what his government is doing to aid the ailing economy.
In response to a question from Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane about the newly formed presidential council on state-owned companies, Zuma said it would not directly run projects or take over responsibilities of line function departments. He said Deputy President Ramaphosa remained responsible for overseeing the stabilisation and reform of state-owned entities.
Maimane asked why Zuma had the confidence in Dudu Myeni to have her reappointed as South African Airways (SAA) board chairwoman after she had taken the airline to the brink of disaster.
Zuma, chuckling intermittently, said SAA had experienced difficulties for a long time and its problems were “not a new thing”. Without mentioning Myeni by name, Zuma said she had been trying to get SAA “out of trouble”. He said there was no difference between what she had done at the airline and others who had been there previously – obviously intending this as a defence.
“I’ve seen her working like all other chairs,” Zuma said, to wolf whistles from the opposition benches.
In response to a question from United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa that members of his Cabinet had lost confidence in him, Zuma said: “I haven’t heard ministers saying they don’t have confidence in the president.”
And asked by Maimane about comments by Ramaphosa that government was “at war with itself”, Zuma said he had heard “people raising their own views”.
“You must ask Ramaphosa,” he said.
“There is no war within government and that is a clear answer. Perceptions are perceptions.”
Ramaphosa had made the remarks about government being at war with itself in the context of the heat on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan by the Hawks and the clashes between state-owned companies, such as Eskom and Denel, and the National Treasury.
Zuma stated several times that there was “no war between the Presidency and Treasury”.
His one revelation to Parliament was that he was “engaging” with Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane about his statement regarding a judicial enquiry into South Africa’s banks. Zuma did not give further details, other than that he was “attending to” the matter.
Zuma also told the House that he did not believe that the results of the local government elections were an indicator that voters were losing confidence in the ANC. He said the ANC was still the leading party and the opposition had a “small percentage” of the votes. He said opposition parties had to rely on coalitions to take control of three metros previously controlled by the ANC.
Zuma’s relationship with Myeni cropped up later on Tuesday afternoon during a special debate on SAA. Zuma had left the House by then. Repeatedly referring to the SAA chairwoman as “Dudu Myeni Zuma”, Malema said she used her proximity to the president to bully other members of the board.
Malema’s speech was constantly interrupted by ANC MPs, demanding that he cease referring to Myeni in this way. Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu asked Malema whether he understood the abuse of women and if he knew Myeni was a married woman. Malema hit back, accusing Zulu of “masquerading as a feminist”.
“You are blowing hot air. You want to pretend you are a feminist when you aren’t. You’re self-serving. It’s all about you,” Malema said.
Malema ended with a lecture to ANC MPs:
“Defend this minister of finance. This is the only thing we have in this country. If you can’t listen to this man, this country will collapse. This criminal which was sitting here is troubling this man. If you are not going to defend the minister of finance and you defend a criminal you must know there will be no country left.”
By then Zuma was long gone, but not before he had delivered his own lecture to the House.
“Each time when I come here I am abused by members of your Parliament. Instead of answering questions, I sit here being called a criminal and a thief. You are going to make it very difficult for me to fulfil my constitutional obligations,” Zuma told MPs.
“Your House must do something. If this House is not interested in me answering questions, then say so, then don’t call me.”
It was another session in Parliament when the ANC took a battering by the president and on behalf of him. Paying back the money for Nkandla clearly did not mean that Zuma would now have an easier ride, and the ANC continues to be weighed down by his scandals.
Zuma still has the ability to laugh it off, even when he was caught not knowing the details of his signature economic plan. It is yet another sign of a president profoundly disconnected from reality and the depth of crisis in his administration. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma during his question and answer session in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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