24/05/2018 07:21 SAST | Updated 24/05/2018 07:23 SAST

Calls For Unity In Otherwise Acrimonious Presidency Budget Debate

Some participants in Wednesday's debate on the presidency's budget rose above the acrimonious partisanship characteristic of the fifth Parliament to make calls for unity.

POOL New / Reuters

Some participants in Wednesday's debate on the presidency's budget rose above the acrimonious partisanship characteristic of the fifth Parliament to make calls for unity that will be beneficial for the whole country.

Minister in the Presidency responsible for monitoring, planning and evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: "There is a vicious cycle of poverty we must be determined to change."

"We must all put shoulder to the wheel."

"It must be Thuma mina (Send me) and fix it," she added to what has become President Cyril Ramaphosa's rallying call since his State of the Nation Address.

"It is very important for all of us to ensure we restore hope and dignity for our people," she said.

She urged MPs to remember that people were not passive recipients of the government's services and should be part and parcel of the solutions.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said: "We must break free from the politics of identity as practised by liberation movements across the continent. Our people need a political system in which their choices express their ideals and not their race."

Mike Hutchings / Reuters

"We are victims of a failing liberation movement that has no choice but to cling to the past because it has no credible plan for the future."

"We are constantly told that there must be losers for others to win. We are told that the advancement of economic opportunity in South Africa is a zero-sum game," Maimane said.

"I don't believe this for one second. I believe it is entirely possible for us to build an inclusive society and an inclusive economy without creating enemies. But we can only do this together."

Closing the debate, Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel said he agreed with Maimane.

He said Parliament was turned into a "forum where all we do is insult each other", rather than a marketplace of ideas for the advancement of the country.

"South Africans expect more of us," he said.

He said the call of the Freedom Charter – that South Africa shall belong to all who live within it and that its wealth shall be shared "should unite all of us".

"Rather [than criticising government], join with us in taking the country forward," he said. "Join us, roll up your sleeves. If needs be put on your overalls."

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald started his speech referring to Ramaphosa's announcement that he intended to donate half of his presidential salary to a fund which is to be launched in honour of the 100th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela's birth.

"The day I'm a billionaire, I will give my whole salary, not half of it."

He said it was the president's constitutional obligation to promote unity in the nation and one of former president Nelson Mandela's legacies was reconciliation.

But, he added that he was concerned when he saw what was going on in the country and politicians making divisive remarks.

He said Ramaphosa said land must be returned to its "rightful owners".

"Who are the unrightful owners?" he asked.

"You!" several ANC MPs answered.

Groenewald said, if everybody in the country worked together, it would prosper.

ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe said the ANC and EFF were constantly playing the race card.

"Please, Mr President, lead the country in building unity."

"We need everyone on board to defeat the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment."

"We all expect you to be a unifier, not a divider."

Earlier the EFF was asked to leave the chamber after arguing with Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, who questioned the propriety of EFF leader Julius Malema's call for people to occupy land when he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Malema also said Deputy Minister of State Security Ellen Molekane was a defender of corruption, which he withdrew after Tsenoli's prompting.

He also said Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene wasn't "the guy we think he is".

Karin Strohecker / Reuters

"He is corrupt as hell!"

Nene laughed and shook his head.

The EFF's members were not the only ones who were shown the door. DA chief whip John Steenhuisen was asked to leave the House after he refused to withdraw his remark that Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Luwellyn Landers was a "PW Botha Stratcom stooge lackey".

This, after Landers, who served in apartheid's tricameral Parliament, read a letter in a newspaper which claimed that Israel had been awarded a contract for a desalination plant in Cape Town after Maimane met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that beleaguered Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille was opposed to this, hence the party's move to get rid of her.

DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia said, after Steenhuisen left the chamber, that Landers mouthed "f you" to the DA. He denied it and chairperson Thoko Didiza said she would investigate.

Ramaphosa is expected to respond to the debate on Thursday at 14:00.