Parliament truce falls apart over Zuma no-show

2014-11-20 06:52

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A fragile truce between political parties in Parliament fell apart last night after the opposition pushed ahead with a motion accusing President Jacob Zuma of dodging questions over his Nkandla homestead.

Insults flew and countless frivolous motions were moved as the ANC filibustered for some four hours to delay the debate on the Democratic Alliance’s motion demanding Zuma be censured.

When it finally began, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said ultimately Zuma was to blame for the chaos in the National Assembly last week that saw riot police rushed into the chamber to remove an MP.

“If the president obeyed the rules of Parliament and came here to answer oral questions, it would not have happened.

“That is what is at the heart of this – our president is absent without leave ... we are therefore forced to move for the censure of the president.”

In retaliation, the ANC revoked an agreement brokered by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday morning. The agreement gave members of the Economic Freedom Fighters a reprieve from certain suspension from Parliament.

ANC MP Mathole Motshekga said a report from the powers and privileges committee finding 20 EFF MPs, including party leader Julius Malema, guilty of contempt, would be back on the agenda for consideration in the morning.

“The ANC is completely taken aback by the DA’s decision to proceed with the motion reneging on this agreement a mere 24 hours later,” he added.

Motshekga proceeded to call Maimane a “dishonest, dishonourable man”, and then was forced to withdraw the remarks.

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery also targeted the DA leader and said the debate was a sign of internal divisions in the party.

He said Maimane had failed to secure his colleagues’ backing for the deal reached with Ramaphosa to restore calm to Parliament and had therefore been forced to proceed with the motion.

“The honourable leader could not stand up to his party. Lead the Democratic Alliance or step aside,” he said.

“This debate goes against the agreement ... which was to work together and restore the decorum in the house. For reasons that probably relate to the conservatism, the racism in this party they wanted to go against the agreement.”

The motion was rejected with 217 votes against 78. There were four abstentions.

Earlier in the day, Ramaphosa himself had warned that the détente he announced after two hours of crisis talks with the opposition was “in my view, about to lie in tatters”.

It was evident that it had failed to plaster over the cracks soon after he began answering questions in the National Assembly and opposition MPs interjected repeatedly to raise points about executive accountability.

“What it means is that what we struck yesterday, does not hold. It doesn’t hold. If I was engaged in a debate, I could understand heckling and interjections. I have been asked to come here and answer questions.

“If I am impeded ... in answering those questions ... then what is the point of having me here?”

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa had said sanctions against the EFF would be held in abeyance while parties searched for “political solutions” to the strife that has beset Parliament for months.

He added that Zuma would come to Parliament regularly to answer questions on condition he was treated with respect.

During the debate, EFF MP Sipho Mbatha said if the accord collapsed his party would be the biggest losers.

“We would like to state that we support the agreement facilitated ... yesterday morning ... [but] the rules say that the president shall come four times a calendar year.”

Though Maimane had toned down his prepared speech to acknowledge the agreement, he too drove home the point that since there was only one more sitting of Parliament before the end of the year, it was clear Zuma would not appear the required fourth time.

Zuma has not returned to the National Assembly to answer questions since August 21, when he was heckled by EFF MPs over Nkandla, for which they are likely to be expelled from the legislature for up to 30 days.

Agang MP Andries Tlouamma argued that the agreement should have brought Zuma to the chamber and accused the ANC of persisting with a whitewash on the R246 million security upgrade at his private home.

“The Zuma presidency is an irritating sore into our body politic,” he commented.

“We have fallen right back to where we are trying to come out of.”

Earlier in the day, Tlouamma had reduced many, including Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, to giggles, when he said a sangoma was needed to determine if filibustering MPs were “bewitched”.

But the mood tensed when Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu flashed an obscene gesture at the DA benches, becoming the second MP this year to do so after EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu.

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