The ANC in Luthuli House sent best wishes to its members in Parliament ahead of Tuesday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) debate. “We wish all our MPs well and the best of luck — through them in Parliament the ANC Lives and the ANC Leads,” said the governing ANC’s official statement.
Instead, what unfolded on the ANC benches in the House was a fundamental rules misunderstanding and an incapacity to pull off effective parliamentary political tactics.
The trading of deeply personal insults on the pretence this was politics, not only trivialised, but disrespected the tens of thousands of survivors and victims of gender-based violence — including the 2,771 women murdered from April 2018 to March 2019, according to the SAPS crime statistics.
It was fellow Limpopo politician and a former ANC Youth League mate of now EFF leader Julius Malema, first-time ANC MP Boy Mamabolo, who opened the door.
“Will the Honourable Malema take a question,” Mamabolo asked. Unusually, Malema said yes.
Perhaps the EFF was aware and briefed on what the ANC had planned for Tuesday afternoon’s sitting. It wouldn’t be the first time. Daily Maverick has seen a screengrab of a series of WhatsApp messages between senior ANC caucus leadership, including “Malema must feel the heat and drink his medicine”, and a “Well done Cdes, with an emoji of hearts for eyes”. The veracity of those could not immediately be ascertained.
Unusually, Malema’s speaking time on the speakers’ list was 42 minutes — that’s effectively the total speaking time of all EFF parliamentarians over the two-day parliamentary SONA debate. A smooth move to pave the way for what was to come.
And so Mamabolo got to ask: “You are abusing your wife. We want you to stand in front of the nation and assure us… Are you abusing your wife?”
Malema heard the question, but proceeded with his SONA debate speech, slamming President Cyril Ramaphosa as the president beholden to white monopoly capital.
ANC backbenchers, mostly young, mostly male, got up, shouting “Point of order! Point of order!”, at times even over each other. And one ANC MP, seemingly unaware that each political party is permitted to field its choice of speaker, yelled:
“It’s wrong for Malema to respond (to Sona). He walked out”.
It was getting heated. The presiding officer, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Chairperson Amos Masondo, battled to restore order particularly as MPs of his own political side, the ANC, kept firing off points of order.
Masondo’s eventual intervention, “the Honourable Malema indicated he would not answer”, was rebuffed by Malema.
“I never said I won’t answer the questions, I’m reading my speech. No one is going to tell me what to do at what time. I’m in charge. These fools are running around… I’m running the House.”
The EFF leader said he had the ANC by its “scrotum”, and how the party was “scared” to take on former deputy president FW de Klerk over his now apologised for and withdrawn comments that apartheid was not a crime against humanity.
“De Klerk has got your force numbers,” said Malema, in reference to the ANC’s own discomfort over apartheid spies in its ranks — and many unresolved allegations. “You are not actually revolutionaries. You were impimpis!”
That sparked another round of furious points of order from the ANC backbenches. ANC seniors on the front benches remained silent at that stage.
It was the beginning of the collapse of the House — and Malema was smiling; he knew the ANC was doing his job for him.
“I’m standing here. I can irritate you. You can be emotional. There’s nothing you can do… I am running this House,” said Malema. “If you want to collapse your own House, there’s nothing I can do.”
Any pre-agreed ANC tactic to bring repeated points of order to disrupt Malema’s flow — a time-honoured tool in parliamentary politics — had gone horribly awry.
Even though Masondo had ruled out of bounds any further points of order on gender-based violence, Malema answering a question and being kicked into touch for a later response on whether “fools” was parliamentary or not, the ANC backbenchers kept on interjecting with points of order.
Some of those were plainly uninformed, like ANC MP Bheki Hadebe’s interjection when Malema — again — referred to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan as “Honourable Jamnadas”.
Hadebe cited joint rules 140: “No member shall refer to any other member by his or her name or names only”. But Malema — unlike some ANC MPs who earlier called him just by his name — had called Gordhan “Honourable”, and so abided by the rules even if only in the letter not the spirit of the rules.
Parliamentary rules are tricky. Needed are quick thinking on feet and a sharp tongue to pull off parliamentary politics and politicking.
On Tuesday Malema showed he had swotted up. Eventually, he responded to Mamabolo — and upped the ante.
“I have never, not once, not my ex, not my wife, abused a woman… I’ve never, not once, laid a hand on my wife,” said Malema, adding in quick fire:
“I got information the president used to beat his wife Nomazizi (Mtshotshisa).”
And the ANC benches erupted again.
“I’m coming on three others,” said Malema, who was heard saying that by starting with Ramaphosa “maybe I started with the wrong one”.
But Malema didn’t stop.
He’d sue Mamabolo for R1-million for making the wife-beating claims outside Parliament, and outside parliamentary protection.
“I’m not hiding… Can the president (say): did he beat his late wife… The president has a history beating up his wife… Nomazisi (Mtshotshisa) used to complain to president Zuma…”
Several ANC backbenchers were on their feet. As were EFF MPs, shouting back.
Amid the chaos, ANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala, international relations committee chairperson, objected, saying the presiding officer could not allow Malema to cast aspersions on Ramaphosa.
Small Business Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni also objected to Masondo’s chairing, saying he had failed to protect Ramaphosa from renewed allegations that had already been dealt with. “(Malema) now says it was Nomazizi because she’s now late, may her soul rest in peace, she can’t stand and speak for herself.
In the run-up to the 2017 Nasrec ANC national conference, allegations of domestic violence emerged and were publicly rebutted by Ramaphosa’s former wife Hope Ramaphosa.
Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko responded to a request for comment:
“The president has on previous occasions answered this allegation. He is on record saying he never abused his wife and rejects the claim as baseless. It is just gossip meant to impugn the good character of the president.”
But the irony is rife.
That that gossip has now made the parliamentary record, and collapsed the House, is because of the president’s own party, the governing ANC. DM
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