Andrew Donaldson

Well, whaddyaknow...Zuma is presidential

2015-02-20 12:06

Here's what the EFF want Zuma's SONA debate response to include

2015-02-19 12:08

We're joined in studio by EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi who describes what the EFF are hoping to hear when President Jacob Zuma delivers his response to the State of the Nation debates in Parliament. Watch.WATCH

Andrew Donaldson

The president walked into yesterday afternoon’s post-debate cocktail party with the triumphant swagger of a man whose mule had just won the July. And why not? Some 20 minutes earlier he’d pulled off an unlikely triumph. Jacob Zuma had addressed the nation and, against all expectations, had come across as . . . presidential.

His response to the two days of bickering and belligerent posturing over his dismal State of the Nation Address had been to pour on the schmooze.

Well, whaddyaknow and who woulda thought? The charm offensive worked.

“Even if we differ,” he had informed the National Assembly as he closed his amiable address, “I always see no reason why we should get angry. What for? This is not war. We’re not fighting . . . once you’re angry, the capacity to think gets affected. I always believe that you must always remain cool and calm.”

Opposition MPs had been singled out and praised for their contributions to the debate. Even arch-enemy, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, got the treatment.

“I must also commend Honourable Malema for really dealing with the state of the nation address,” Zuma said. “Because he did. That’s what is wanted in our debate – our debate, our views in this democracy to be expressed here properly and with respect.”

Maimane’s ferocious savaging

Not everyone had felt the love, though. There had been no mention, for example, of DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane – at least not by name.

Should we perhaps read anything into this? Maimane’s ferocious savaging on Tuesday had, after all, set the acrimonious tone for the debate.

Like a demented preacher, he had rained damnation on Zuma. Looking him in the eye, he had thundered, “Honourable President, in these very chambers, just five days ago, you broke Parliament! Please understand, Honourable President, when I use the term ‘Honourable', I do it out of respect for the traditions and conventions of this august House. But please don't take it literally, for you, Honourable President, are not an honourable man. You are a broken man presiding over a broken society!”

Make no mistake, that stung.

But all that seemed like something best left behind us now. Here, amid the mini kebabs and savoury goodies and bottles of a very decent Shiraz in the National Assembly restaurant, guests and dignitaries couldn’t get enough of Zuma.

He was in his element. He couldn’t stop beaming and grinning away at anyone who caught his twinkling eye. And he roared with laughter. If you thought he was laughing last Thursday, when the White Shirts waded into the Economic Freedom Fighters and dragged them out the assembly, you should have seen him here. He couldn’t stop. Gales go of bellowing, wheezy chuckles, white teeth flashing everywhere. Masses of white teeth. More, it seemed, than even Tom Cruise.

The flesh-pressing was relentless. Both Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa readily posed for snaps with parliamentary catering staffers and foreign diplomats alike. They were heroes. Champions of the people. There was seemingly no end to the selfies with both of them.

All smiles

Even my cellphone put in a bit of overtime. An extremely large person with the VIP protection services asked me what I was doing. Just my job, I told him. “It’s how I take notes at these things. With pictures.”

He apologised and smiled. He was just asking, he said. “Carry on.” How bizarre, I thought. Last week, my phone had been jammed and men of some hench - the goonish White Shirts - had prevented me from interviewing MPs they had thrown out of the Assembly. And now? All politeness and smiles, everywhere. The luuuurrve, I tell you.

On reflection, Zuma’s speech was perhaps not that great. But, in the context of Jacob Zuma, it was exceptional.

It’s often said that the President is best when he departs from the script and speaks off the cuff. That is definitely not always the case. There is ample evidence of unthinking on one’s feet and, over the years, there have been some unfortunate clangers.

But all had gone swimmingly this afternoon.

Out there, on the Atlantic seaboard, the estate agents breathed a sigh of relief. Their portfolios of multi-million rand luxury piles were safe. Foreigners would still be allowed to own property in South Africa - just not agricultural property.

A history lesson

He addressed last week’s signal-jamming saga by reaffirming government’s commitment to the Constitution regarding the freedoms of association, expression and the media. “It was an unfortunate incident and should never happen again.” That declaration was loudly applauded by the House.

Then came the vaulting off-the-cuff foray that misfired, I thought – the patronising, 12-minute lesson on SA history that he gave the Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder. “When I said when Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape our problems began, it’s a historical fact,” he intoned, like a headmaster.

But, even here, there was love. “No-one will chase you away,” he told Mulder. “You belong here.” Mulder look relieved.

In what may have been a reference to Maimane, Zuma said he was not been too bothered with the insults that were flung about in the debate. “We don’t worry when you call us names. We know what we are doing.” Nevertheless, he did sternly add, “I will deal with matter when I answer questions next week.”

Should Maimane and Malema be worried?

Earlier, on Wednesday, the ANC caucus had a fairly spirited crack at regaining the upper hand in the debate.

Some of it was quite surreal. ANC MP Zukiswa Rantho called on South Africans to “defend Eskom from liberal attacks” and take “ownership” of the utility by saving electricity. “The load shedding we are experiencing is not a crisis,” she said, “but it is an instrument used to find a balance between the demand and supply of electricity. The people can’t govern under private ownership. Eskom is our company as South Africans, and 100% owned by South Africans.”

A solid man

Not to be outdone in this regard, Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown offered her audience a handy electricity-saving hint - warm beer.

In a performance more suited to a kindergarten minder, Brown gushed on about a letter she had received from one Callie Fernandez, a Gordon’s Bay retailer who had a simple, convenient plan to reduce power consumption. “He proposes that we get rid of walk-in fridges at bottle stores,” she said. “They guzzle electricity.”

Brown was evidently quite moved by Fernandez’s “volunteerism” and the “spirit of 2010” in his letter. “He wrote to me without thought of personal gain! His mindset was about overcoming huge challenges and not bemoaning his fate. Like that side of the House. ‘Woe is me! We’re having a bad time!’ That side of the House!”

Perhaps the most startling of Zuma’s champions was Bongani “Mbongi” Mkhongi – and not merely for his wholesale theft of Maimane’s “broken man” theme. His praise for his leader was not only fulsome and fatuous, but it was delivered at fever-pitch. He was, as they say, on eleven when we really needed him operating on a seven.

“Mr President,” he shrieked. “These broken young men say you are broken! You are not broken. You are a solid man!”

To Zuma, it was mania from heaven. To others, it was torture - Fifty Shades of Kruip. But it got worse; Mkhongi went on to give the House a lecture in revolutionary discipline. It was another of the day’s irony-free moments.

“Rascalism can’t be robustness,” he yammered, “and assertiveness can’t be reduced or equated with arrogance and misbehaviour. That behaviour in the conduct of a revolution is not revolutionary. Instead it is counter-revolutionary.

Successful revolutions across the world were conducted through revolutionary discipline. There is no revolution anywhere in the world that was won by lumpen leadership.”


He emphasised this last point by shrieking, as if warning the House of the shifty, lowborn types in the opposition benches: “Lumpens! Lumpens! Lumpens!”

Further overreaching in the unfettered admiration department came when the ANC’s chief whip in the National Council of Provinces, Hunadi Mateme, told the House that she would not be surprised if Jacob Zuma was canonised after serving his second term. Stated with the conviction of a zealot.

The grovelling had been less delusional earlier in the debate. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, for example, opened his contribution to the debate with glowing remarks about the “many positive comments” he’d heard in the previous week about the President’s State of the Nation Address.

“Oh, your job is safe! Your job is certainly safe!” DA members chorused.

The heckling was just a taste of things to come, for Masutha’s suggestion that presiding officers even had the right to call in the army, let alone the police, to deal with unruly behaviour in the National Assembly opened a floodgate of protests and his 20-minute address doubled in length thanks to the numerous interruptions on points of order.
Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande later got a taste of it as well from furious EFF MPs.

The debate’s sweeper, he began his address with an attempt to portray the DA as hypocritical and without honour by reading a letter from party leader Helen Zille to Atul Gupta, thanking him for his generous donation to the DA before the 2014 elections.

'Revolutionary advice'

A cunning plan, you’d have thought. But, strategy-wise, it was perhaps something of a mistake to have included this part of the letter: “Our support has increased from the 2004 election...This means the the DA grew by 34.7%. You helped us to achieve this historic milestone. Thank you for support, thank you for standing up for strong opposition...”?

A bit of a backfire, then. But nothing like the one that came when Nzimande deigned to offer EFF MPs “revolutionary advice” regarding their behaviour. “Do not start a journey that you don’t know where it might end,” he piously intoned. “That’s not revolutionary. Because if the journey ends in a wrong place; we’re actually all in trouble. That’s revolutionary advice, honourable Malema, and we know what we’re talking about.”

The EFFs were on their feet in an instant, enraged and shouting. Ignoring presiding officer Cedrick Frolick’s pleas to sit down, Malema bellowed back at Nzimande, “There’s nothing we can’t finish! We’ll finish it! We can guarantee you. For the next five years this is what will confront you and we’re here. We’re not invited by you; there’s nothing you can do at all. We are not scared of Blade. We are not scared of President Zuma! We will finish it! I promise you!”
Nzimande denied that he had issued a threat, but he nevertheless withdrew the remark – and with that, the debate was over.


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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  state of the nation 2015

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