In a robust debate that largely stayed within parliamentary rules, EFF leader Julius Malema on Tuesday told President Jacob Zuma he would be made to answer on March 11 about misspending on his Nkandla home.
Referring to the fracas in which police dragged the Economic Freedom Fighters from Parliament last Thursday, Malema said: “The police forcibly removed and assaulted us for asking the simple question: ‘When are you, Mr President, going to pay back the money?’
“There is no doubt that you unduly benefited from the construction of your private residence at Nkandla and in our absence from this Parliament you never said anything about the fact that you unduly benefited and must pay back the money.
“It is a question for another day and you will answer that question on the 11th of March when we meet here.”
Malema was speaking in the debate on Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address and referring to the date when the president is due to appear before the National Assembly for the first time since the EFF memorably heckled him in August.
Malema accused Zuma of using force to settle political disputes. Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said he was the main cause of South Africa’s problems in that democratic institutions were undermined to protect a single man from criminal prosecution.
“This honourable man is in our presence here today,” Maimane continued.
“In these chambers just five days ago, you broke Parliament.”
Maimane said he was using the term “honourable” out of respect for Parliament and warned Zuma it did not apply to him personally.
“Please don’t take it literally because you are not an honourable man. You are a broken man presiding over a broken society.”
He described the deployment of armed police to drag Malema and the rest of the EFF’s MPs out of Thursday night’s joint sitting as an assault on the foundations of democracy. He said Zuma’s chuckle after the incident was an insult to the country, reflecting the gulf between him and the nation.
“You laughed while the people of South Africa cried for their beloved country. You laughed while trampling on Madiba’s legacy in the week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of his release.
“We will never ever forgive you for what you did on that day.”
In a similar vein, firebrand EFF MP Godrich Gardee later rose to complain to Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli that Zuma had fallen asleep. Tsenoli dismissed that point of order as frivolous.
But in points of order raised earlier, before the debate had begun, the EFF and DA brought National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise to agree that the parliamentary record of last Thursday would be amended to reflect the removal of MPs as well as the DA’s subsequent walkout.
Parties had protested that it had been sanitised to omit these events, as well as the blocking of the cellphone signal in the chamber that night.
“I want to give you the assurance… by the next sitting the minutes will be put in the manner in which they are usually put,” Modise said.
Earlier on Tuesday, at a briefing by presiding officers, Tsenoli, Modise and embattled Speaker Baleka Mbete defended the decision to use police to eject all EFF members.
Mbete, who did not preside over Tuesday afternoon’s sitting, said though she had called on only three EFF members by name to leave the House, by the time the police entered the whole party was “on their feet”.
The Speaker conceded that presiding officers were told last Wednesday by government that “some machines” would be used as part of security operations for the state-of-the-nation address, but insisted the intention had not been to hinder media coverage of the event.
“We became aware that there was a plan for certain equipment to be deployed.”
She then said: “I repeat, the media was not a target, was not mentioned, was never on anybody’s mind.”
She said the device in question belonged to a state department.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Parliament reportedly told the Western Cape High Court that the National Intelligence Agency had been responsible for the signal jamming.
Media houses have approached the court for an order to ensure there will not be a repeat of the telecommunications blackout in the Assembly that began several hours before Zuma was due to commence his speech.
The hearing was postponed on Tuesday afternoon until February 26.
Lawyers for Parliament and those for media houses Primedia Broadcasting and Media24 reached agreement on the cellphone signal issue, but not on a demand from the media for assurances that the live audio and video feed will not be cut in case of a disturbance in the National Assembly.
Norman Arendse, for Parliament, said the legislature would defend its policy on video and audio feeds. This states that feeds can be interrupted when there is “grave disorder” in the House.
Arendse was given until next Monday to file his responding papers. SAPA