17/11/2017 03:15 SAST | Updated 17/11/2017 11:51 SAST

Ramaphosa vs Zuma in Parly: Two Different Leaders, Two Different Ball Games

Thursday gave South Africa a rare opportunity to watch Zuma and Ramaphosa both receive a grilling in Parliament at the same time.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters

President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa are two very different people, two very different politicians. Consequently, contrasts can be drawn -- aside from ideology and demeanour -- from the way they conduct themselves in Parliament.

Thursday gave South Africa a rare opportunity to watch Zuma and Ramaphosa both receive a grilling in Parliament at the same time, one at the National Council of Provinces and the other in the National Assembly. The pair answered questions for oral reply with both their sessions starting at 2pm.

Plonk each broadcast side by side and one can gain an indication of how the current president and a potential president in Ramaphosa respond to questions, dodge answers and react to the opposition.

Both were asked by the DA about the president's Cabinet reshuffle last month. Zuma faced a question by Johan Londt who wanted to know what spurred him to reshuffle his Cabinet a second time in one year, and DA leader Mmusi Maimane wanted to know why Ramaphosa did not communicate the president's decision to the National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete.

READ: Zuma Says It Best When He Says Nothing At All.

Zuma referred to the Constitution and the sub-judice rule to manoeuvre away from providing a direct answer.

"The president of the republic has the prerogative to appoint and remove members of Cabinet. I exercised this power after careful consideration. The specific decision to which you refer is presently the subject of judiciary consideration...

"...These are reasons that [are] not necessary to be known by people," he said in response to a supplementary question.

The president also dodged his next question by the IFP's Mntomuhle Khawula, who wanted to know if the performance of former Cabinet members such as Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas, Blade Nzimande and Derek Hanekom had any bearing on their dismissal.

Zuma repeated the same answer he gave Londt and chuckled afterwards.

Granted, Ramaphosa had an easier question. But he did respond directly.

READ: Zuma Perfects The Art Of Beating Around The Bush.

He said on October 17, when Zuma announced his changes to Cabinet, he informed Mbete in writing.

"I am willing, prepared and able to provide [Maimane] with a copy of my letter to the Speaker... I am perplexed and taken aback by the question raised by [Maimane]... I don't know what is behind this question because I did precisely what is set out [in the rules]," Ramaphosa said.

But Ramaphosa does have his way of dodging questions that are leading, especially those that try to get him to comment on the failures of the ANC or its president.

COPE's Deidre Carter asked if Zuma's constant reshuffling over his tenure may have led to incompetency in government. Here, Ramaphosa detracts from answering directly.

"What we need to do is to strengthen our government at various levels... it is when government is stable and when government is strong that we are able to address the challenges that face our people," he said.

He did the same when Maimane asked if he supported former public protector Thuli Madonsela's recommendations set out in her "State of Capture" report that said the judge for an inquiry should be assigned by the Chief Justice.

"I'm sure the leader of the opposition will be patient enough... all of us have said almost unanimously that we would like to see a commission of inquiry being appointed... we all believe that is the best way of getting down to the truth... that matter is being finalised by the courts... let us hold back with our impatience," Ramaphosa said.

What is also worth noting is the difference in which the two handle criticism from the opposition.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen made a tongue-in-cheek remark, presenting a box of matchsticks to Parliament, saying Ramaphosa's credibility would fit into it. After a mischievous to-and-fro, where Ramaphosa warned Steenhuisen about the dangers of bringing matchsticks into the House, the deputy president playfully waved a finger at him, chucking in the process.

Zuma, when confronted with harsh criticism by opposition members on the wastage of taxpayer money to fund his court battles, directly attacked the party, shifting blame completely.

"Firstly, the matters are in court for such a long time not because of me, I'm not responsible for that... DA goes to court on everything and therefore cause the money of the taxpayer to be paid in defence of those working in government... it is not my responsibility. It's not my problem," he said.

But one should never mistake Zuma's assertiveness for arrogance. He is a master politician, one who knows how to use the rules of law and the rules of the Constitution to worm his way out of accountability. He knows when to be direct and when to remain mum.

Ramaphosa also displays a show of political skill, knowing how to strike a balance between towing the party line and promoting his own ideology to further his campaign for presidency. Ramaphosa will not be drawn to criticise the ANC or his president, but will dance around issues of corruption and state capture in a way that reaffirms his condemnation without directly pointing fingers.