Cape Town - In his maiden speech in Parliament, Mmusi Maimane on Wednesday challenged President Jacob Zuma on the Nkandla controversy, saying South Africans could not trust him until he told the truth about state spending at his private home.
The new Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader said Zuma failed to mention corruption in his State of the Nation address on Tuesday night, though South Africans knew that it started at the top and were used to scandals surrounding the president.
“Until the Honourable President fully explains himself on the undue benefit from state funds, to his personal private property, amounting to millions of rands, South Africa cannot trust in his word,” Maimane said during the debate on Zuma's address.
“The public protector has spoken. The president has not. The people of this nation have absolutely no explanation from their president on damning allegations against him.”
He said it was imperative that Parliament re-established an ad hoc committee to consider Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's findings that Zuma derived improper benefit from the R246 million public upgrade at his home in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma declined to respond comprehensively to Madonsela's findings in April, saying he would wait for the outcome of a separate probe by the Special Investigating Unit. On June 4, he indicated that he would submit a response to Parliament within 30 working days.
Maimane termed Zuma's post-election State of the Nation address a missed opportunity that failed to announce the drastic measures the president himself said were necessary to jump-start the economy.
Maimane was speaking just before Economic Freedom Fighters' leader Julius Malema’s first address to the National Assembly and illustrated his point with a barb aimed at the former ANC Youth League leader.
“You see, '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 said chief among Zuma's omissions were immediate steps to tackle the energy supply shortfall and put an end to deliberate power cuts.
The young DA figure, whose oratory style is frequently compared to that of US President Barack Obama, cited US civil rights hero Martin Luther King to make this point.
“While businesses fail and jobs are lost because of unstable electricity supply, the honourable president ignores what Martin Luther King referred to as 'the fierce urgency of now',” he said.
“While we see very long-term projects being proposed, there is no immediate plan. This economy will only further decline without immediate electricity supply consistency.”
He welcomed Zuma's surprise statement that the government would re-introduce the Independent System and Market Operator Bill, terming it a “a complete flip-flop” that vindicated the opposition's long struggle to see the bill into law.
Maimane, who was elected unopposed to replace Lindiwe Mazibuko as the DA’s parliamentary head, urged Zuma to withdraw a slew of other bills that the DA believes run counter to the government's stated intention of boosting the economy and promoting small business development.
“I challenge him to withdraw the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, the Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill (which does nothing of the sort), the Property Valuation Bill, the Expropriation Bill and the Infrastructure Development Bill.
“All of these bills contradict the National Development Plan, undermine the economy and job-creation.”
Though Zuma said unemployment was dooming the fight against poverty, Maimane said the president had failed to acknowledge the full extent of the job crisis and the country needed better leadership for the next five years.
“One third of our people can't find work... yet the extent of the unemployment crisis received no mention in the president’s address. How can he say we are a nation at work, when millions of people are, in fact, out of work?”
He went on to suggest that the country needed better leadership for the next five years than it enjoyed in Zuma's first term.
“Mr President, for the sake of South Africa, for the sake of our people, for the sake of the future of this beautiful land, Mr President, live up to the title of Honourable President.
“Mr President, we cannot afford five more years of more of the same.” - Sapa