President serves up a scolding

2012-02-17 00:00

DEPUTY Agriculture Minister Dr Pieter Mulder received a public dressing down from President Jacob Zuma in Parliament yesterday — but it will not cost him his job.

If there was ever any doubt as to who was boss, the president made it clear that comments by the Freedom Front Plus leader during the state of the nation debate on Tuesday were unacceptable.

As reported in The Witness yesterday, Mulder suggested that “Bantu-speaking” people had no historical claim to 40% of the land, which caused consternation in the government benches.

But replying to the state of the nation debate yesterday, Zuma told Mulder off, warning him to “tread very carefully” on the very emotive issue of land.

Zuma told MPs that Mulder had stunned the nation with his “bold denial of historical facts about land dispossession”.

The land question was “extremely sensitive” and “a matter of life and death” for the majority of the country’s people, the president said.

“[It] must be handled with utmost care, and not in the careless and callous manner in which Honourable Mulder handled it yesterday,” he said to applause from the assembled MPs.

The president said the government was trying to handle the land issue responsibly, constitutionally and in a conciliatory manner, and it did not help to approach the matter emotionally.

Looking Mulder straight in the eye he said: “It is not good leadership to be so emotional.”

FF Plus MP Pieter Groenewald was also dealt with, when he asked the president whether it was responsible leadership “when some leaders in the ANC constantly tell white people they have stolen the land and therefore are thieves.

“Is that responsible leadership?”

Zuma replied: “I am sure the honourable member does not want me to get to the land question; how the land happened to be in the hands of the minority in this country.

“I’ve said we are dealing with this matter responsibly, that does not change the facts of history, but it says we are a responsible leadership today and that is what we do,” the president said to more applause.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj later said this would not cost Mulder his job.

“This is an emotive question and people come under pressure from their constituencies and then they say ill-considered things.”

Much of the ANC’s unhappiness about Mulder’s statements relates to the word “Bantu”, which has been widely regarded as being offensive given its use during the apartheid regime.

When asked about it, Mulder said he used the word “Bantu” as a recognised academic term in the linguistic sense, and did not mean it in an offensive way.

“I suppose I could have said ‘Nguni and Sotho’, but then I would have been omitting the Vendas and Shangaans. I stand by what I said.

“I am serving as a leader of an opposition party in my position at the invitation of the president.

“It’s tough, but I will make my contribution as long as the invitation stands,” Mulder said.

The ID said Zuma should sack Mulder, while the DA said it believed it was more important to focus on food security and rural development than on the past.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union said it was the ANC that stirred up emotions, not Mulder.

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