Defend Truth


A Tale of Two Speeches


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

In the hurly-burly and heightened anticipation of the eighth Motion of No Confidence vote in President Jacob Zuma that took place by secret ballot on 8 August and which has subsequently set the scene for a bloody war of attrition as the ANC eats itself alive in full view of the public, we relook at the tone and significance of two key addresses given on the day. Both opposition leaders made rousing speeches, targeting a specific constituency and audience. But which will be remembered as the most persuasive and effective, DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s or EFF leader Julius Malema’s?

Until the 8 August vote it was DA leader Mmunsi Maimane who had called for and initiated the bulk of motions of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma. In 2010 COPE’s Mvume Dandala had proposed a motion that was defeated and in March 2015 Agang’s Molapi Plouamma proposed a motion which he later withdrew.

Significantly the 8 August MONC was the first time the vote took place in secret. It was also the first occasion that the EFF had written to the speaker to request a motion, this after the DA had already done so. While the EFF’s round-about way of seconding the DA’s request had no value in terms of parliamentary rules and procedures, it was deeply symbolic politically.

The two speeches delivered at this crucial moment in South Africa’s short democratic history are significant. The ruling party is at its lowest point ever in its over 100-year history, buried under a fetid pile of corruption on an eye-wateringly grand scale and implicating many in high office.

The country has reached many low points during Zuma’s presidency – after the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Nkandla for example – but had never quite sunk to the depths as exposed in the #GuptaLeaks which, have provided evidence of at least R100-billion lost to theft and corruption.

So, the key to the speeches delivered on 8 August was to read the minds of those in the ANC who are also shocked and disgusted by President Jacob Zuma and his kleptocratic cronies and to persuade them to vote against the wishes of their party and democratically oust a sitting president.

In the history of the ANC this was unprecedented.

But there was a proviso. ANC MPs could do this under the magical shield of a secret ballot.

Sure, ANC MPs had watched as their colleagues who were brave enough and had dared to speak out were vilified, attacked and even threatened with death. The waters were teeming with circling, snarling, cornered sharks.

But the moment had arrived.

History would record, history would remember.

Both Maimane and Malema were aware that the televised live broadcast of the Motion of No Confidence would be watched not only in South Africa but also internationally.

And so how one begins such an important speech is crucial and revealing.

The most famous opening line of a speech is fictitious and occurs in Act 3, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when Mark Antony delivers a subversive funeral oration for the murdered Caesar

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.”

EFF CIC Julius Malema had no time to waste on 8 August.

This was not a speech that needed to be heard by the masses. Its aim was true and sure. He went straight for the jugular.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the incoming acting president Baleka Mbete for having been courageous enough to take a decision allowing the secret ballot to take place today. Many in the ANC, including the officials of the ANC, have told her to not engage in issues of the secret ballot but to offer an open ballot. She went against the wishes of the officials of the ANC. We salute her for that. We are not here today to remove a democratically elected government of the ANC which was voted for by our people in 2014. Whether we like it or not we must at all times respect the wish of the people and that is why we are here to make it very clear that ours today is not against the ANC but against the father of Duduzane, we are here to remove Duduzane’s father because Duduzane’s father is the most corrupt individual in this country.”

It was a magnificent opening, perfectly pitched, its frequency fine-tuned to reach the hearts not only of the ANC but of those who complained that this was a “silent coup”.

It begins with the optimistic and cheeky nod to Mbete as the “incoming acting president” and then it dispels any rumour or claim that this is a vote against the ruling party, elected to govern by a majority whose wishes must be respected.

And then the political masterstroke – not President Jacob Zuma but “the father of Duduzane”. In that moment Malema metaphorically toppled Zuma as the head of a constitutional democracy and placed him as the head of a family, a dynasty, which treated South Africa as a personal playground, to be bought and sold – like José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, like Robert Gabriel and Grace Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Maimane, on the other hand, is much more gentlemanly, collegial and conventional. In speeches he cannot shake the sing-song of the preacher that he is outside of his political life. It is a tone that might be comforting, familiar and sincere to many but to those who do not enjoy a good sermon it grates, it reads as too rehearsed, too detached.

“Madam Speaker, Honourable Members, Comrades, Fighters, Democrats. Fellow citizens of this proud nation,” Maimane began.

Maimane is here acknowledging the collective moment when differences must be set aside to achieve this one goal. He borrows the ANC’s “comrades”, he acknowledges the EFF’s “fighters” as well as the democrats in his own party and in the ANC. And then “fellow citizens of this proud nation”.

His reach is wider, his intention to create a notion of a future where his party might very well be part of a government of national unity, a government where the ANC might no longer enjoy its majority. A government where the ANC will be in opposition.

Maimane lingers also for a moment doing what is correct, referring to the tragic death of ANC MP Timothy Khoza, and then again casts his political net wide. “We may represent different parties in this House, but we are united in our love for our country and our loyalty to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. We may have different opinions, but we are not enemies.”

Malema, on the other hand, began to work up a verbal sweat soon after his opening, reminding ANC MPs, “comrades”, that they had acknowledged they could have handled the Nkandla scandal differently.

I want to say to the comrades in the ANC, we warned you about Nkandla and you did not listen to us when we spoke about Nkandla. In 2016 you lost some of the metros and your response was you should have acted better on Nkandla, your response was you could have handled this matter differently and you committed that you are going to improve after those outcomes. From August 2016 till to date there is no single improvement, you have degenerated further, you have become worse than before the 3 of August 2016 and now can you imagine what is going to happen in 2019 if you continue the way you are today.”

And then plunging the dagger.

We want to say to you, we are not questioning whether the president has got powers to appoint Cabinet or reshuffle it but we have a problem with a Cabinet that gets reshuffled by people who are not elected. Because if a Cabinet is reshuffled by the Guptas then we know that the president is not longer exercising his responsibility. We are rising against the Guptas who are reshuffling Cabinet, we are rising against the Guptas who are appointing the boards in Eskom, in Prasa, in Transnet, in SABC, in SAA; we are rising against the Guptas who have ensured that our economy has been downgraded, that our economy is in recession, we are rising against those who have surrendered the people’s power into a family of foreigners, that is what brings us here today.”

Maimane on the other hand conjures Mandela’s rainbow, “all of us – black, white, Indian and coloured – want South Africa to work. To be the prosperous nation we know it can be.”

And then, perhaps unnecessarily having to justify his existence as the first black leader of the DA, Maimane takes the house on a history tour of his life, his growing up in Soweto, how he knows, understands and has suffered “the sharp end of apartheid brutality”, how he swore that one day he would “fight oppression in this country”, how he had never imagined that “one day I would be here, in this Parliament, fighting a new form of oppression – a corrupt system that keeps our people imprisoned in poverty”.

And almost as if he knows he might have lost some of his listeners at this point, he says he understands we are “tired of talking about President Zuma and the Guptas. So am I. And this is why we tabled this motion, so that we can move on from this disastrous chapter and focus on the things that matter for our people, Honourable Members.”

Maimane has his eye on the long game.

He sketches the pain and the poverty of contemporary South Africa, the recession, the belly-up economy, the junk status downgrades, the corruption. He draws citizens into the drama.

I have met mothers who feed their children on sugar water and boiled weeds. I’ve heard of parents abandoning their babies, and I have heard of good people turning to crime out of sheer desperation. Life is incredibly hard for poor South Africans.”

And then he pleads with his colleagues the “honourable members” to take back the country from the corrupt President Zuma.

The choice before us is not between yellow, red or blue. It is not about party politics. It is not about which party tabled the motion. Today our choice is between right and wrong. Between good and evil. Today we either do what is best for our country, or we turn our back on it.”

He reminds MPs of their oath of office, how they have promised to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

If we fail to use this opportunity, history will judge us harshly. And the people of South Africa may never forgive us. I hold out the hope that there are enough people in this House today who will put politics aside and do what is right for the people they were elected to serve.”

And then Maimane plays politics, naming those ANC MPs, Pravin Gordhan, Derek Hanekom, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Makhosi Khoza, and the SACP’s Blade Nzimande, who had all spoken out against President Zuma.

Malema, on the other hand, specifically singled out two Zuma loyalists, Minister of Energy Mmamoloko Nkensani Khubayi and MP Pule Mabe as well as recently appointed Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Stella Ndabeni.

“If the president had executed his responsibilities and respected his oath of office we would not be here today. We will never call for removal of an elected president who respects his oath of office. So, stop misleading yourself. Stop telling yourself a lie. Your vote is secret. Your conscience will remain with you. You know we are telling the truth. We want to say to honourable Nkensani, you are doing very well in the energy department but we are unable to do so because of the things you said during Nkandla. You are writing your own history as you sit here, even when you are going to perform better in future we will have difficulty because of the wrong history you have written. All of you sitting here individually, honourable deputy president, you are writing your own history, you will be judged accordingly. To the history you have written for yourself. Stella Ndabeni, Pule Mabe. Protect your future Stella by voting the father of Dudzane out of power. ANC vote Zuma… (mic is cut)”

Maimane, placing the event in a broader context, reminded MPs that there were many outside of Parliament who had called for President Zuma to step down. There were the 101 party stalwarts, he told them. Even former President Thabo Mbeki had exhorted MPs to “act in Parliament as the voice of the people, not the voice of the political parties to which they might belong”.

And then Maimane ended with Mandela.

Honourable Members. I know what Nelson Mandela would have done in this House today. And you know it too. He once said: ‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’ I am asking you today to overcome your fear, to show courage when the people of this country need you. I am asking you today to vote for hope. The hope that we can defeat the corruption that oppresses our people. The hope of a prosperous nation at peace with itself and the world. The hope that we can make South Africa a better place for our children. If we do the right thing today, we will give our children a brighter future. Vote for your hopes, Honourable Members, not your fears. Do the right thing. Vote with your conscience, and remove this corrupt and broken President from office.”

So which of the two hit the sweet spot?

Which of the two was the most effective perhaps in persuading those renegade ANC MPs to vote with the opposition parties?

If you are looking for an uppercut to the head, a blow that would fell the enemy, then we must go with Malema’s brilliantly delivered, short and well aimed punch.

Malema knows the ANC, understands its DNA, it runs through him. He knows its secrets and its skeletons and his speech was aimed at his former comrades. And in that sense it would have unsettled some, angered others, but it hit home.
We don’t want to destroy your beloved ANC, we want to protect it from the father of Duduzane.

But in the long run, when young South African historians return at some future date to unravel this moment in time, these last days in the attempt to excise the rottten President Jacob Zuma, then it is Maimane’s speech that will give them a deeper insight into the wider issues at hand in South Africa and how, in 2017, the country stood at the brink of a possible new political dawn where the ANC, riddled with disease, would simply not be able to “self-correct” and whither into insignificance in the very near future.

Either this or those who support Zuma will continue to undermine the Constitution and we will all live in a very different country that we have not yet quite been able to imagine.

And for this reason, both these speeches will go down in history as a reminder that South Africa’s young democracy was and is a constant work in progress and that in 2017 it was in the capable hands of a young generation who had so much hope. DM


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