Losers, counter-revolutionaries and walkouts at Parliament

2014-09-17 08:40

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After an insult-laden debate, opposition leaders walked out of Parliament, leaving the ANC to easily defeat their vote of no confidence in speaker Baleka Mbete.

Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, who opened the debate on the motion yesterday, led the walkout after ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani sought to table an amendment which would have seen the vote turn into one of confidence in the speaker instead.

As the DA, Economic Freedom Fighters and all other opposition parties were leaving the chamber, Sizani rose to withdraw and suggested that since there was a still a quorum – thanks to the ANC’s majority – MPs should proceed to vote on the original motion.

“It is a pity you did not recognise me earlier,” Sizani said before presiding officer Cedric Frolick agreed and rang the bells for the customary minute before the vote.

Asked at that point whether he would lead the opposition back into the National Assembly to vote, an angry Maimane said: “They can do what they like now.

“If it had to be a function of our walking out before they allowed the vote, then no, we are not going back.”

The result was 234 against the motion of no confidence, and none in favour.

It was an unexpected outcome to an afternoon of fractious debate in which the DA and EFF were called losers and counter-revolutionaries by the ruling party as its secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, watched from the public gallery.

Maimane argued that Mbete had a clear conflict of interest because she also serves as chairperson of the ANC.

“Let me be clear, this motion is not personal. This is not about Baleka Mbete. Honourable Mbete is a competent member of this house. She’s a former deputy president. She has her flaws, but we respect her as an experienced politician.”

He said it was impossible for Mbete to hold both positions and serve Parliament with the requisite neutrality.

“What this motion is about is about the office she holds in the ANC, and what it means to holding the office of Speaker. The conflict of interest is untenable.”

Maimane said Mbete, who kept a serene smile through most of the debate, had been deployed by the ANC as speaker to ensure President Jacob Zuma did not have to face any tough questions.

“She came here not as an honest referee, but as a player for President [Jacob] Zuma’s ANC. She sold out this Parliament to her masters at Luthuli House,” Maimane said.

Maimane drew a tongue-lashing from Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who dismissed him as a token black from a party with fascist tendencies, and the EFF as disgruntled youths looking to get rich.

“Lately the DA has been on a shopping spree to find a token black person ... it found him in dusty streets of Soweto,” he said.

“What gives these losers and hypocrites the audacity to question the ANC’s deployment policy?”

EFF leader Julius Malema, who had repeatedly urged deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to silence excited ANC supporters in the gallery, later returned the insult, calling Mbalula a hypocrite “who is never true to any boss because he lacks a backbone”.

He added that Mbalula himself had aspired to the position of ANC secretary-general but lost and was therefore carefully watched from the gallery – one of many references to Mantashe as the opposition repeatedly made the point in the debate that he was effectively running Parliament.

Asked to withdraw the comment, Malema firmly refused on the basis of precedent because Mbalula had not been asked to withdraw the same slur immediately.

Throughout the debate – the most chaotic session the chamber has seen since the EFF brought parliamentary business to a standstill last month by heckling Zuma – the ruling party argued that the opposition had no legitimacy and was trying to undermine democracy.

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