South Africa

PARLIAMENT

Grandstanding and a pricey designer scarf blight the joint parly sitting on KZN floods

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the Joint Sitting of Parliament on Government’s response to the KZN floods. Cape Town. South Africa. 26 April 2022. (Photo: Siyabulela Duda)

President Cyril Ramaphosa appealed for unity to rebuild flood-ravaged KwaZulu-Natal, but was let down by his own side. ANC Premier Sihle Zikalala decided to tackle DA water tanker jabs with some of his own. And National Council of Provinces deputy chairperson Sylvia Lucas’ sartorial choices raised eyebrows.

Nothing prevents anyone from sporting expensive designer gear. Self-proclaimed radicals of the governing party and its alliance partners have for years been ribbed as Gucci communists for their suit preferences. The EFF, in particular, has been derided for how their fancy designer shoes and watches peek out from their red overalls and domestic worker outfits.

But it would never have been the best choice to sport a Louis Vuitton scarf costing well over R8,000 at a time when there is widespread public distrust of politicians and concerns of corruption whittling away at funds to rebuild KwaZulu-Natal, as happened with Covid-19 relief aid and PPE tenders.

The scarf was folded over one shoulder of National Council of Provinces deputy chairperson Sylvia Lucas, as she followed President Cyril Ramaphosa to the Speaker’s podium in Tuesday’s joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on the “devastation of catastrophic flooding”.

“It is a great source of shame that when this disaster struck, the most burning public debate was around fears that the resources allocated to respond to this disaster would be misappropriated or wasted,” said Ramaphosa of the KwaZulu-Natal floods, but also referencing flooding in the Eastern Cape and North West.

Appealing for “unity in action across the nation”, the president described the joint sitting as an occasion for elected public representatives to “express solidarity” with the families of the 435 people who died and all those who were injured. 

But KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala would have none of it. 

“Honourable president, I would like to respect your instruction that we should all pledge solidarity with people and not use this platform for grandstanding, but I feel compelled to just clarify some issues.”

It was all about the water tanker sent to his La Mercy home, for which he later apologised. 

“In La Mercy I have been supporting that community for more than a year, including organising water… I have provided them with four static tankers. But more than that, why should I do that? There is a (DA) councillor, but the councillor is missing in action…

“We must stop discrimination… The leader of the opposition in this House comes to Ward 58 to go to upmarket area Umdloti and ignores the people of La Mercy. Worse than that, he does not visit the people who were in the halls where they are accommodated.”

DA leader John Steenhuisen’s earlier remarks seemed to have hit home. 

“… (T)he full council is yet to meet, since the floods. The mayor of eThekwini has been entirely absent these past two weeks, and the premier’s contribution was to hijack a water tanker for his personal use,”  Steenhuisen told Ramaphosa.

“You were right not to trust them,” said Steenhuisen.

“Everyone has simply run away from the problem, and desperate residents have been left to fend for themselves… And when the ministers finally appeared, they commandeered [rescue] helicopters for vanity flights… Despite your best assurances on television and in this House, there is no coordinated response. Your government is absent.”

In his reply to the debate, Ramaphosa responded to both sides of the House, but ignored Steenhuisen. 

However, the president did say it was not the time to score points, in clear reference to the earlier collapse of the House after ANC points of order on the DA leader’s heckling that Zikalala was “lying”.

While Steenhuisen withdrew the word after it was ruled unparliamentary, he quickly rephrased, “This man who is stealing water is not telling the truth.” EFF MPs, including party leader Julius Malema, interjected with, “Untshontsha amanzi”, a reference to Zikalala roughly translated as “he’s stealing water”. 

No one was asked to withdraw as ANC ministers Bheki Cele and Lindiwe Zulu seemed to take over presiding over the session. At one stage, Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said, “No, man. Asseblief (please)… No, come on…”

Coincidentally, the politicking from the ANC side passed almost unnoticed. When Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane stepped off the podium, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina exclaimed, “Buya Mabuyane” – a play on Mabuyane’s name, roughly translated as “he who returns”, in the context of his bid for a second term as ANC Eastern Cape leader.

That wasn’t what Tuesday’s joint sitting was supposed to be about. 

Carefully choreographed steps had been taken to control the optics – from Majodina writing to the Speaker to request a special ad hoc joint committee to the presidency styling the joint sitting as “the president is inviting Parliament to ensure that resources reserved for social and economic assistance following recent floods reach the intended beneficiaries”.

That’s a dangerous spin. Bluntly put, Parliament does not have to wait for anyone’s invitation to do oversight as this is its constitutional responsibility under Section 55 of the Constitution. And parliamentary rules allow lawmakers to call anyone to testify or to produce any document.

But the coordination and controlled optics meant Ramaphosa described the flood disaster ad hoc joint committee as “an important step… to give people confidence every effort is made”, and wished it well just hours after it was established by the National Assembly and NCOP.

Such an ad hoc committee is also a crucial departure from Parliament’s traditional attitude that its committees are empowered to conduct oversight. The DA’s past requests for such an ad hoc oversight committee to look into the July 2021 looting or Covid-19 relief and PPE scandals were persistently thwarted. 

Still, on Tuesday the National Assembly unanimously adopted the ANC motion to establish this disaster relief ad hoc joint committee to “engage the relevant government departments and entities to assess the overall impact of the damage, response and relief measures by Government; oversee the response and implementation of the relief measures by government; (and) confer with those committees who have a direct interest in the events to facilitate coordinated oversight”.

This flood disaster ad hoc joint committee – the NCOP on Tuesday adopted a similar motion – will report back to the House by 30 November 2022.

Without actually giving any details on budgets or timeframes, this was more about controlling the optics to reassure South Africans no corruption would bedevil relief efforts in KwaZulu-Natal.

Ramaphosa said the Auditor-General would do real time audits – he didn’t say whether additional monies would be allocated for that – and National Treasury would publish all disaster-related procurement on its website for public scrutiny.

And another “multi-stakeholder mechanism” would be established, even though it would not replace existing structures, according to Ramaphosa’s reply to the parliamentary debate. “It will provide another level of assurance that is representative of several sectors of society.”

But on Tuesday it remained unclear exactly what such a mechanism would do and how it would work with other structures, including Parliament’s multi-party ad hoc joint committee. 

It’s among the many questions left unanswered. DM

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  • CR might feel, pretend to feel shame but he can hardly be surprised that people expect the money to be stolen. And it will be just like with Covid and not much will happen. As for claiming that providing four static tankers as a solution, how low is the bar? Why is there no running water? R8000 for a scarf? In a country where kids are dying of starvation? Wow! Despicable, heartless and a clear sign of having more money than sense.Shame on you, ANC

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