POLITICS

Notes From The House: Bloodied And Bruised, Zuma Will Have To React

President Jacob Zuma will have his revenge at 14:00 on Thursday, when he replies to the debate on the State of the Nation Address.

15/02/2017 17:44 SAST | Updated 16/02/2017 10:48 SAST
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in Cape Town on February 9, 2017.

ANALYSIS

President Jacob Zuma sat through Wednesday's debate on his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the National Assembly with his right fist buried in his right cheek, elbow on the table, reading speeches. He occasionally scribbled notes on a small notepad.

For the second day in a row, the head of state and leader of the African National Congress (ANC) sat listening without emotion, removed and dispassionate. If anything, he looked unhappy.

Opposition MP's attacked him with gusto, saying he should resign and that his government had done enough damage to society. "Do the right thing and leave!" Vusumzi Magwebu (Democratic Alliance) implored him.

Zuma will be delivering his reply on the debate at 14:00 on Thursday – a debate in which his government was accused of being "murderous" and he was asked if he was a racist. And he will be sure to use his second bite at the cherry (with SONA being the first) to rebuke his critics.

Zuma has in the past been reluctant to react directly to criticism during the debate, even if it was based on policy rather than the person. He normally reserves mentions of opposition parties and their MPs for innocuous organisations like the Inkatha Freedom Party (he normally thanks Mangosuthu Buthelezi for his wise counsel) and the Freedom Front Plus (engaging Pieter Mulder about culture and language).

But Zuma almost never wants to react to the DA and its leadership.

In an interview with HuffPost SA, Mmusi Maimane (DA), the Leader of the Opposition, says he is uncertain what to make of Zuma's reaction in the House. Maimane says it's difficult to figure out if the president takes it to heart, or if he just brushes it off.

One suspects it might be the latter. But we'll soon find out whether the last two days' debate made any impression on Zuma, or none at all.

Tell us, Mister President, are you a racist?
Pieter Groenewald, leader of the Freedom Front Plus – who recently completed his doctorate on electoral systems – was on fire addressing the National Assembly.

"What do you have against white people, Mister President? Tell us? Because you blame white people every time things go wrong!" he said to some of the loudest jeers over the two days of the debate.

"Tell us, Mister President, are you a racist?" Groenewald insisted, turning to Zuma in his bench, where the head of state was quietly minding his own business, organising his papers and making notes on a small notepad.

Given that Zuma once famously braaied with Steve Hofmeyr, a singer who believes in the superiority of the European and that apartheid was actually black people's own fault, the answer will be instructive.

Leading the defence
Lindiwe Zulu, minister of small business development, was the second heavyweight sent forward by the African National Congress (ANC) to defend its leader's honour. Girded in full battle gear – black headcloth with ANC colours, black dress with ANC colours and Moscow-red lips – she strode to the podium with the urgency of a Gupta approaching Mahlamba'Ndlopfu.

During the build-up to her ascendance to the podium, sitting next to her bench-mate David Mahlobo (minister of state security), she animatedly shook her fists and heckled opposition speakers. She's been a fervent supporter of Zuma in the House, much more so than senior frontbenchers like Derek Hanekom (minister of tourism, cellphone, both thumbs), Angie Motshekga (minister of basic education, iPad, scrolling) or Lindiwe Sisulu (minister of human settlements, arms folded, looking into the distance).

She carried on about the "means of production" (nothing however about five-year plans) before having to recant a statement about Natasha Mazzone's (Democratic Alliance) bare shoulders. Mazzone, from Pretoria, objected to Zulu saying "there is a limit to which you (the opposition) can push us", perceiving it as a threat.

Zulu (according to the translator): "You must know that you cannot come to this House dressed like that, with bare shoulders. You must be properly dressed."

Presumably like Zulu: green, black and yellow from top to bottom.

New mayor cuts forlorn figure
Parks Tau, who was booted out of the mayor's parlour in the Johannesburg Civic Centre in August last year, has been cutting a forlorn figure in the shallow end of the ANC MP's talent pool on the benches of the National Council of Provinces.

Generally regarded as collateral damage of the electorate's backlash against Zuma, Tau explained how local government can and should change to ensure a better life for the downtrodden and poor – and also how effective municipalities can enhance economic development.

Lean and fit, wearing a grey suit and chequered tie, his technocratic speech – one of the few that actually was about policy and implementation, rather than politicking – didn't get much reaction from either side of the House, except a loud "Yawn!" from the DA.

After he finished he returned to his bench and sat down quietly. No pat on the back and seemingly no comprehension from his colleagues.