President Jacob Zuma yesterday made his intentions clear: he would not respond to personal insults and slander.
In his widely anticipated response to two days of heated debate on his State of the Nation Address (Sona), Zuma opted to engage with MPs who interrogated issues he raised in his speech – and ignored those who deviated, most notably EFF leader Julius Malema and DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
On Tuesday, Malema told parliament before leading his MPs in a walkout he would not take part in a debate with an illegitimate president.
He also tore into Zuma, referring to his rape trial, while Maimane invoked “Planet Zuma” to proclaim the president had lost touch with South Africans.
But yesterday, Zuma said nothing about any issues raised by the pair. Instead, he praised Maimane for his intervention in the chaos preceding the opening of parliament last week, when the DA leader pleaded with the EFF to give South Africans the chance to listen to the Sona.
Zuma also appealed to MPs to respect voters, saying: “We are here to represent those who elected us. If it is us who make it impossible for them to listen to us, then there’s something wrong with our democracy. We can’t call ourselves honourable while we behave dishonourably.”
Persistent disruptions and hurling insults in the house are a disgrace, but few opposition MPs will take Zuma seriously when he lectures them on honourable conduct.
The reason is that he has not led by example and is a significant contributor to the crisis engulfing parliament, the same institution he has used to avoid accountability.
The Nkandla saga that saw him disrespect Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and then ignore her recommendations, only succumbing days before being dragged to the Constitutional Court, is a perfect example of dishonourable conduct.
Zuma’s call for parliament to be respected is correct. However, we doubt he is the right messenger.