Mayhem erupted in the parliamentary debate on the problems facing South African Airways (SAA) yesterday when EFF leader Julius Malema tagged SAA board chairwoman Dudu Myeni as “Mrs Dudu Myeni-Zuma”.
Myeni has a close personal relationship with President Jacob Zuma and heads the Jacob Zuma Trust, in addition to heading SAA and the UmhlathuzeWater Board in Richards Bay, where she is from.
Several senior ANC MPs, including Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, shouted that Malema was out of order because of what the appellation Myeni-Zuma implied about their relationship.
ANC MP and house chairwoman Grace Baroto, however, said as Myeni was not an MP she was not protected by parliamentary privilege.
The EFF leader reminded ANC MPs that the ANC had never yet won a court case against the EFF, blaming it on their inability to think – which unleashed another crescendo of noisy replies.
Malema said Myeni owed her position as SAA board chairwoman solely to her proximity to Zuma.
The DA’s deputy spokesman on finance, Alf Lees, meanwhile, told parliament Myeni was a “corporate warlord” and if she had the interests of the airline at heart she would have already resigned.
Earlier, EFF members again walked out of Zuma’s question-and-answer session, after delaying the proceedings for just more than 30 minutes. In chaotic scenes in parliament‚ Malema shouted down parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete, before obeying her order to either allow the president to speak or to leave the chamber.
The walk-out by the red berets comes just close on four months after Zuma’s last appearance in the National Assembly on May 17‚ which was marred by the forceful removal of EFF MPs from the house after they had refused to be addressed by Zuma.
Mbete had a tough time trying to gain control of the house yesterday.
Malema told her: “Since you don’t want to recognise me‚we are going to leave this house because we are not prepared to listen to this criminal.
“But we will wait outside. When the criminal finishes speaking‚ we are coming back to continue with the business of this parliament.”
The entire EFF caucus‚ dressed in their red overalls and red hard hats‚ then stood up and left. An exasperated Zuma, meanwhile, complained: “Each time I come here, I am abused.
“Instead of answering questions‚ I am called a criminal . . . a thief.
“This house has to do something.
“It is very difficult to me to do my constitutional duty . . . if this house is not interested in me answering questions‚ then don’t call me.”
Zuma said later his cabinet had confidence in the newly reconstituted board of the SAA. He also said state-run companies were “not at war” with each other, a reference to disputes between firms such as Eskom and the Treasury.
Replying to a question by DA leader Mmusi Maimane as to whether he had confidence in Myeni‚ Zuma said‚ “Yes‚ I do”.
She‚ along with other members of the SAA board‚ had been appointed by the cabinet‚ who had confidence in all the board members‚ he said.
Malema, however, pointed out later that under Myeni’s stewardship much had gone wrong with SAA, including money not being paid into correct accounts, its losses totalling billions of rands and it not tabling its financial statements as required by law.
He said it was irrational to reappoint Myeni given her disastrous reign, and made a plea to ANC MPs.
“You are defending the criminal who was sitting here,”Malema said, gesturing to the empty chair Zuma had occupied, “and not the good man [Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan] who is the only thing standing between this country and economic disaster. “Stop doing these wrong things,” he pleaded, to no avail.
ANC MP Thandi Tobias claimed the debate was not triggered out of concern about SAA or about its leadership, but as an ideological attack to capture the means of production.
Lees said the DA had already launched a court challenge against the rationality of reappointing Myeni, and expressed confidence that the case would succeed.
The IFP, Cope and the ACDP agreed that Myeni’s appointment was irrational. Gordhan said the new SAA board was set specific targets to conform to, and that state guarantees had to be repaid -– they were not bailouts.
Zuma was also deeply embarrassed by DA MP David Maynier, who asked him what the nine points of his nine-point economic plan were.
Zuma managed to name only one – agriculture – to scornful laughter from the opposition benches. – Additional reporting by Babalo Ndenze, Neo Goba and AFP