The debate on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address ended on low note on Wednesday night after MPs engaged in name-calling and opposition parties angrily accused presiding officers of bias towards the ANC.
With words like “rubbish”, “bulls**t”, “political dwarfs”, and “se voet” being bandied around, the presiding officers had their hands full trying to maintain order.
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Earlier on in the debate, the House came close to being adjourned after presiding officer Raseriti Tau ordered the full Democratic Alliance caucus to leave the National Assembly.
Tau became visibly angry when DA chief whip John Steenhuisen told him that he was “talking rubbish” by ruling a remark by Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota on political “factions” unparliamentary.
Steenhuisen leapt to Lekota’s defence and accused Tau of being biased against opposition parties in his rulings.
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“You are talking rubbish,” he insisted and refused to withdraw the word after Tau objected.
DA leader Mmusi Maimaine stood up to defend Steenhuisen, who repeated his comment twice more. Tau ordered him out of the chamber and Steenhuisen added in parting: “It will spare me listening to your rubbish.”
At this, the DA caucus stood up to applaud Steenhuisen, and chant “go, go” at Tau, who said he had no choice but to “ask the DA to leave”.
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani proposed that the chief whips of parties meet to resolve the crisis.
United Democratic Movement MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa pleaded for reason, telling Tau that Lekota had not impugned the dignity of an MP because he had not referred to an individual.
The DA remained put, and senior MP Wilmot James reminded Tau that neither the word rubbish nor factions were unparliamentary.
As the debate continued, Kwankwa again rose and asked Tau to clarify what he had ruled in relation to the DA caucus. He said the public was following the debate on television and there could not be a perception of bias.
“We don’t want the people to think that we have rules for the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.”
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Tau, who maintained that he felt insulted by Steenhuisen’s comments, then denied that he had told the official opposition to leave.
“I have said the behaviour of the Democratic Alliance will leave me with no option but to ask them to leave the house,” he said to sniggers from the opposition benches.
The DA MPs stayed put with Steenhuisen later returning after sending a letter to the presiding officers saying he regretted the nature of the exchange in the chamber.
When Lekota was finally allowed to continue his speech, he lashed out at Parliament’s presiding officers for protecting Zuma and his cabinet instead of allowing MPs to do their jobs.
“We, the legislature, are now held ransonm by presiding officers who believe that their function is to shield the executive from our efforts to hold it to account,” said Lekota.
DA NCOP delegate Jacques Julius was the next to land in hot water for referring to the president’s “bestseller: How to grow a political dwarf in under just one week, David van Rooyen”.
Tau insisted he withdraw the words “political dwarf”, despite attempts from the DA benches to explain that it was merely a metaphor.
“Whatever metaphors we use, we should not use it in a derogatory way,” said Tau.
Julius also drew the ire of the Human Settlements Minister after he said she was “loaded with cash, mostly through corruption”, prompting the an indignant Lindiwe Sisulu to jump up and demand an apology.
“This is not true. This is absolute rubbish and I want him to take it back. It is your responsibility to protect me. You cannot allow a blatant lie to continue,” Sisulu told Tau.
Julius begrudgingly withdrew his remark.
Later, as Nomvula Mokonyane, Water and Sanitation Minister, took to the podium, she lashed out at “sell-outs” in the DA, and repeated the word “bullshit” – a word she said she heard coming from a “verkrampte”, a word used to describe an Afrikaner nationalist who supported apartheid.
Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, who was chairing the debate at the time, had his hands full and in an exasperated tone eventually berated MPs, calling their insults “utter nonsense”.
Zuma is expected to take to the podium at 2pm on Thursday to respond to the debate.[Source: African News Agency]