AFRICANGLOBE – Is President Jacob Zuma running scared?
The ANC has confirmed that he will avoid taking direct questions from opposition MPs until Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters have been tamed.
The rules of parliament demand that the president face leaders of opposition parties and answer their questions four times a year.
Zuma has only done so once this year – and that ended in chaos on August 21 after he refused to say when he would “pay back the [Nkandla] money” as rowdily demanded by the Economic Freedom Fighters.
“The president can’t go to parliament when that parliament is a circus. Parliament therefore must sort itself out,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said this week.
Instead, the ANC, which has admitted to being concerned about parliament’s conduct towards Zuma, has decided to hold moreizimbizo, which the ANC claims bring him closer to the people.
But opposition parties say izimbizos are just stage-managed ANC events where people are bused in and given food to listen to the president – and where he never has to answer tough or topical questions from opponents elected by the people.
The DA and EFF have slammed what they call Zuma’s cowardice.
But Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, denied that the president was avoiding the house, saying the election period had made it difficult for him to appear before parliament during the first part of the year.
“The year 2014 has been a shorter year due to, among other things, elections, the formation of a new government and so forth, but despite that the president has been able to meet his parliamentary responsibilities,” said Maharaj.
He said that even though Zuma had not orally answered questions, he “continues to answer parliamentary questions for written reply as they come and will also honour his oral reply once the dates are finalised”.
Malema said the ANC’s decision was confirmation that Zuma was “scared” of him and his MPs. He said the ANC decision effectively meant Zuma would not be held accountable by parliament in the next five years.
“If they say Zuma will not come to parliament until the mess has been sorted out, it means Zuma will not give the state of the nation address because we’ll be there to say that Zuma must pay back the money. It means that Zuma will not be in that parliament for the next five years, because the EFF is going to be in that parliament for the next five years,” said Malema.
“They’re effectively saying Zuma will no longer be accountable to parliament, that Zuma uyasaba, he’s running away, he’s scared of the EFF. That’s a fact and the way he’s so scared he’s even prepared to commit unconstitutional mistakes of not being accountable to parliament.”
Malema said the disciplinary action against him and his 19 MPs would not intimidate them into relenting.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen also reacted very strongly to Kodwa’s comments.
“President Jacob Zuma is a coward who is undermining the oath of office that he took when he raised his hand upon swearing-in. He agreed to parliamentary oversight, but now he is running away.
“He is far more comfortable addressing ANC rallies paid for by the taxpayer and disguised asizimbizo, where people are bused in for a free meal.
“This is not accountability. This is a farce,” Steenhuisen said.
Kodwa said the president would also have “stakeholder meetings”, presumably referring to the informal and non-binding meetings Zuma sometimes has with special interest groups and business, ethnic or religious leaders.
Zuma is expected to be in the house on Wednesday for Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s medium-term budget speech, but his role will merely be that of passive listener.
Oral question time has been a political disaster zone for Zuma since he lost his cool after persistent questioning on his Nkandla homestead by then DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko last November. At the time he claimed the existence of a mortgage bond he has yet to produce, and which Malema says does not exist.
Kodwa denied the party was protecting Zuma – even though the ANC’s national executive committee last month took a decision to protect him and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, from the “humiliation and embarrassment” in parliament.
Kodwa said: “We never took a decision to protect Zuma. We took a decision that parliament should protect itself and protect its integrity. That is the decision.
“The president, among others, will go to parliament as expected, to go and account, as stated in the constitution. We never said the president and his deputy will not go to Cape Town. But parliament must sort itself out.
“We are concerned. Parliament was descending into chaos.
“We will see a lot of izimbizo until parliament sorts itself out.”
Kodwa’s statements are echoed in the draft parliamentary programme for the last term of the year, which was circulated on Friday and contains no time allocated to questions to the president.
This was confirmed by parliamentary spokesman Luzuko Jacobs, who said on Friday that parliament’s multi-party programme committee had not yet scheduled such a date although “consultation” over a date was proceeding.
Jacobs also said that oral question time with the president happened less frequently in election years.
The ANC appears to be banking on the ongoing parliamentary disciplinary process to kick the EFF out of the house.
EFF MPs are charged with disrupting parliamentary proceedings by chanting “pay back the money” when Zuma was answering questions in August. It is believed that the ANC wants the EFF MPs sentenced to 30 days of suspension without pay.
The powers and privileges committee hearings have been undermined by the EFF MPs walking out.
By: Sibongakonke Shoba, Jan-Jan Joubert and Thabo Mokone