Zuma smackdown for Mazibuko

2012-02-18 18:37

It was an apparently innocent and playful gesture on the part of President Jacob Zuma to show DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko who’s boss.

At a cocktail function following his reply to the National Assembly’s debate on his state of the nation address on Thursday, Zuma pounced on Mazibuko from behind, surprising her by tickling her on the neck and shoulders.

Of course she laughed, because she was caught off guard, and then had a jovial conversation with him that lasted a few minutes.

On the surface, the interaction between the 31-year-old MP and the 69-year-old president looked like that between a father and a grown-up daughter.

But earlier in the House, Zuma rather cruelly mentioned all the opposition MPs who spoke in the debate, including IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder, whom he criticised harshly, but he didn’t grace Mazibuko and her party with as much as a sideswipe.

This harked back to an era when former president Thabo Mbeki, tired of then DA leader Tony Leon’s scathing style, omitted him completely from his responses in these debates.

Leon saw this as an insult. His party regards the speech of the “leader of the opposition” in this debate as second in importance only to that of the president’s.

Perhaps Mazibuko had this in mind too with her speech, which wasn’t quite as dashing as her maiden speech as leader at the end of last year.

Afterwards, at the cocktails, Zuma told City Press he couldn’t respond to Mazibuko because “she said nothing” and spoke on issues not relevant to what he had said the week before.

She had her own state of the nation, so to speak, idealistically outlining the kind of country we’d have if the DA were in power.

Earlier in the week, Mazibuko told City Press she was encouraged by the harsh way she was dealt with by the ANC’s two “sweepers” in the debate – senior caucus members who wrapped up at the end of each of the two sittings.

It showed they took her seriously.

The criticism from Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba and Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin was above the belt – no mention of unfortunate Zulu accents, coconuts or tea ladies – but it was aimed at exploiting her possible insecurity at being new to the job and being incredibly young.

Gigaba said she was “clueless” and “inexperienced”, while Cronin more politely described her speech as a “pipe dream” and her imagery of building bridges as politically naive.

They also contrasted her initial comments about Zuma’s infrastructure plans as not being bold enough with that of DA leader Helen Zille’s, who welcomed it.

Premier Zille, they said, had experience of government; Mazibuko knows nothing.

If Mazibuko was hurt by Zuma’s snub, she didn’t show it.

Some have questioned whether the young politician has bitten off more than she can chew, but so far she has proven herself to be a tough cookie.

If the tone of this week’s debate was anything to go by, the game for her is now fully on the next level. And it’s set to be no child’s play.

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