Cape Town - Rough-and-tumble parliamentary verbal sparring put Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema on the back foot – “I can’t be told what to say” – and saw DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane being labelled “the pin-up boy of the suburbs” and “hired native”.
The first debate of the fifth Parliament got off to a fiery and dramatic start on Wednesday as opposition MPs picked apart President Jacob Zuma’s “uninspiring” State of the Nation address, while also taking swipes at each other.
But it was whistling that got both sides of the House hot under the collar, with Malema interjecting that ANC MP Jackson Mthembu had to be “called to order” over his accusation, and a response from the ANC benches calling for the recording of the sitting to be played as proof.
“You can’t whistle in the House... It’s unparliamentary,” then-presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, ruled to restore decorum.
The five-hour debate saw a number of new members – from the ANC, DA and the EFF – making their maiden speeches.
Earlier on day one of the debate on Zuma’s State of the Nation address, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairwoman Thandi Modise also had to take the reins firmly.
There were accusations that Higher Education Minister and SACP leader Blade Nzimande had “factional tendencies” as MPs displayed selective amnesia about the parliamentary protocol that requires everyone to be referred to as “The Honourable”.
Delivering his maiden speech as DA parliamentary leader, Maimane said his party was not impressed with Zuma’s lacklustre address, which had offered nothing new.
He said the extent of the unemployment crisis had received no mention in Tuesday’s address.
“How can he say we are a nation at work, when millions of people are, in fact, out of work? “South Africa has again been downgraded by reputable ratings agencies. Our economy is shrinking, and more people are losing their jobs because our government is held captive by the competing interests and factional wars at the heart of his party.
“Radical plans are not in and of themselves good simply because they are described as radical – just like wearing a beret does not make you a revolutionary,” Maimane added, taking a swipe at newcomers the EFF.
Perhaps the most drama-filled moment of the debate was when EFF leader Julius Malema took to the podium to deliver his maiden address.
Malema said Zuma’s speech was “uninspiring” and lacked a “central theme”.
Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa seemed unimpressed as Malema, in red overalls and gumboots, addressed the joint sitting. He did not wear his red hard hat as men may cover their heads in the House only for religious reasons.
In a no-holds-barred speech that solicited the most points of order, but which he tried to parry, Malema told Zuma: “You lack courage and you sold out the revolution.
“You are extremely scared of white people, particularly white monopoly capital.”
Malema said he had thought it would be difficult to carry out his mandate against the party that had “taught me everything”.
Challenged after saying “the ANC massacred the people in Marikana – those police were representing the ANC government”, he dug in his heels, insisting he would not withdraw the remark.
Modise reminded Malema of the rules of debate, and said she would make a ruling on his Marikana comments on Thursday.
Malema ran out of time just as he was questioning the government for its ability to deliver 2010 World Cup stadiums, but not toilets. He objected: “But those (points of) order were eating on my time.”
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu derided Maimane, the DA 2014 election Gauteng premier candidate now sitting in Parliament, reminding the House of the DA’s failure to fulfil its election pledge to capture the country’s economic heartland.
“There’s Honourable Mmusi Maimane from Soweto, sitting here, his dreams in shatters,” said Sisulu, adding that he had been “hand-picked” to do someone else’s bidding, “now that madam has found another hired native to play second fiddle”.
Modise had her hands full in dealing with Malema for his comments on Marikana andreferring to Ramaphosa by name and not as the “honourable”.
Malema was also rapped over the knuckles for referring to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and his role in “factional battles” in the ruling party.
He called for the statue of Louis Botha outside Parliament to be removed. “Louis Botha is not our hero and cannot be a hero of a democratic South Africa.”
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi focused a great deal of his address on National Freedom Party leader Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi, a former IFP leader, saying she had been appointed a deputy minister for helping destroy the IFP.