Gupta dust clouds Budget Speech

While the winds of change have been sweeping through Parliament, the dust of the Guptas still clouded the place on Budget Day.

On Wednesday morning, the day Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was due to deliver his first Budget Speech to the National Assembly, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was due to appear before the portfolio committee on mineral resources to answer questions on state capture.

He didn’t show up.

However, shortly before 2pm, in the National Assembly, Zwane arrives sporting a big smile and a grey three-piece suit.

He takes his seat next to Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane on the bench behind Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown.

The bench next to him houses Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen.

One is tempted to call this part of the National Assembly the Gupta Corner.

Promptly at 2pm the House stands as Speaker Baleka Mbete arrives. She welcomes a new DA member and proceeds to call the only order of the day – Gigaba’s Budget Speech.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen rises on a point of privilege. He asks how the DA is supposed to believe anything Gigaba says after a recent high court judgment found that Gigaba “deliberately told untruths under oath”.

Mbete says it is the type of thing he must bring to the House in a substantive motion.

It is not Steenhuisen’s first time at the rodeo.

He whips out a piece of paper with a DA letterhead and says he has prepared a substantive motion, which Mbete must now consider to be heard here and now. Mbete is not interested.

“Defending state capture again!” says Steenhuisen to Mbete as she refuses to allow his motion.

“I know that you are missing your colleagues in the red overalls,” retorts Mbete.

Indeed, the benches where members of the Economic Freedom Fighters usually sit are empty. On Tuesday, they had said that they would boycott Wednesday’s Budget Speech if it was presented by Gigaba, whom they described as “a Gupta stooge who was the engine of state capture under Jacob Zuma”.

While Steenhuisen and Mbete have their to and fro, Gigaba sits quietly next to President Cyril Ramaphosa in the seat reserved for the person due to address the House.

Neither shows any noticeable reaction to Mbete and Steenhuisen’s exchange.

Before Gigaba can get going, Congress of the People MP Deidre Carter also wants to object to Gigaba delivering the Budget Speech. She is also cut short by Mbete.

Some ANC MPs stand as Gigaba approaches the podium. The finance minister hardly finishes his first sentence before Steenhuisen hisses: “We don’t believe you!”

“How the hell should we believe you?” sings DA MP Lindy Wilson, to the tune of the “Glory, Glory Man United” football chant.

“Oooooh!” groans the DA when Gigaba mentions state capture. “You have no shame! You lied under oath!” says Steenhuisen.

Gigaba speaks about “enablers of inclusive growth”.

“Enablers of Guptas!” says Steenhuisen.

“We got into a recession…” says Gigaba.

“Why?” yells the DA.

“We got ratings downgrades…” says Gigaba.

“How?” yells the DA.

When Gigaba quotes US rapper Kendrick Lamar, saying “we gon be alright” with a suitably gangsta hand gesture, DA leader Mmusi Maimane raises an eyebrow in surprise.

The ANC MPs are fairly subdued, providing smidgens of applause at appropriate times.

Ramaphosa follows the speech on a printed copy, his body language and face not giving anything away.

After announcing an increase in sin tax on alcohol, the minister of finance says: “Eish!”

This amuses the ANC benches, but the opposition seems unimpressed.

When Gigaba announces the new amounts for social grants, DA MP Dean Macpherson asks: “How much is Cash Paymaster Services getting?”

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini takes notes while Gigaba speaks about grants.

“Social grants will be continued without interruption,” says Gigaba.

“Not with Bathabile there!” adds a DA MP, possibly Wilson.

“The commission into state capture is ready to commence its work. Halala!” says Gigaba, who granted the Guptas South African citizenship.

After a little bit more than an hour into his speech, a DA backbencher grumbles: “Conclude now.”

A cynical laugh escapes from DA deputy chief whip Mike Waters when Gigaba talks about corruption.

When he talks about evergreen contracts, Steenhuisen asks: “The Guptas?”

There’s more cynical laughter from the DA when Gigaba talks about Nelson Mandela’s ethical leadership.

Gigaba says: “Let us…” Then he pauses.

“Resign!” the DA fills the pause.

“Hang on, don’t rush,” retorts Gigaba.

Gigaba finally starts concluding.

He says: “Thanks is also due to…”

“The Guptas!” the DA completes his sentence.

Not once did an ANC MP raise a point of order relating to the DA interjections questioning Gigaba’s honesty.

But they all stand as he leaves the podium. President Ramaphosa gives him a hug.

  • Gerber is a parliamentary journalist for City Press’ sister publication, News24.

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