Leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane was asked to leave the National Assembly Chamber in the Houses of Parliament, Cape Town during a quarterly Question and Answer session with President Jacob Zuma.
The first three questions Zuma was due to face can be seen below:
First three Qs to Zuma during #ZumaQandA in the National Assembly. 2pm pic.twitter.com/kWjHGXVIsR
— Bash (@BashMjojo) 17 March 2016
Maimane’s question was second on the list. Zuma responded by saying that the Constitution did not require him to consult anyone before he appointed or removed anyone from Minister or Deputy Ministerial roles. His full response can be seen here at 15:00.
Maimane then asked Zuma directly whether the Guptas, a family of Indian origin who have close ties to the Presidential family, had been acting with Presidential powers, specifically, if they had been offering ministerial positions to individuals in the African National Congress (ANC) or elsewhere. He then asked whether the President would be willing to take accountability and resign now, in front of the people of South Africa (18:25).
Zuma laughed at the question and then said all the ministers in the National Assembly have been appointed by him. If anyone had been offered a position by the Guptas, Maimane should ask the individual or the Guptas, it was none of his business.
The conversation then turned to the series of appointments made to the Minister of Finance position in December which had a devastating impact on the country’s economy as investors lost confidence. Zuma claimed that the rand was on the decline before the dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene (26:00), causing Maimane to interrupt whilst Zuma was still on his feet. The Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, asked Maimane to take his seat again, at which point a series of repetitive volleys were exchanged as Maimane became increasingly frustrated, protesting that “South Africans need to know the truth”.
Twenty-eight minutes into the question and answer session, Maimane was warned that if he didn’t take his seat he would be asked to leave, to which he responded “but I’m asking nicely! He’s not answering the question”. At 28:36, Mbete ordered “Honourable Maimane, please leave the House, please leave”.
After a pause, the remaining members of his party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), stood to leave behind him, to cheers and whistles from the ANC. The House descended to the professional and emotional maturity of a schoolyard as the DA waved sarcastically on their way out, and the ANC made some…dismissive…hand gestures. Zuma, still standing at his lectern, could barely contain his amusement, chuckling into the microphone before stepping back out of earshot. Before he left, Maimane shouted, “You are protecting the Guptas”.
In an interview with Eyewitness News outside the House, Maimane said:
“How did the Guptas know before Nene was fired that there would be a position? The President averted my question. He is the head of government, he should know.”
When asked what the DA would do going forward, he declared that they would ask for a committee to investigate the entire Gupta family (he already laid criminal charges against them this morning), and that the DA would consider taking action against the President. As he said inside, Maimane repeated that “clearly the seat of power is no longer at Luthuli House [the ANC headquarters], it is at Saxonwold”. Saxonwold being the affluent Johannesburg suburb where the Gupta family reside. He stated again that the President is not being held to account for his actions.
Concerns about the influence of the Guptas have been growing for a while. The links are fairly plain: Bongi Ngema-Zuma, one of the President’s wives, used to work for the Gupta-controlled JIC Mining Services as a communications officer; Duduzile Zuma, his daughter, was a director at Sahara Computers (the Gupta family business); and Duduzane Zuma, his son, is a director in multiple Gupta-owned companies. As well as computers, the family have interests in mining, air travel, energy, technology and media, but they do not figure on any continental rich list. However, there is no doubt that they are extremely wealthy: their estate in Saxonwold comprises at least four mansions. The estate is now valued at about ZAR52m.
They stirred the pot in 2013 after it emerged that a family plane carrying wedding guests landed at the Waterkloof Air Base near Pretoria, a base normally reserved for visiting heads of state and diplomatic delegations. They have also demanded diplomatic passports in the past, on the basis that they regularly travel with the Zumas, to “promote South Africa” abroad.
The direct inquiry from Maimane today comes after Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas released a statement in which he reveals that the influential Gupta family, offered him then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s job.
A similar allegation by the former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor had been made , where she claimed she was offered the key post of Public Enterprise minister, during a meeting at their Saxonworld mansion in 2010. Zuma’s aides responded to her statement yesterday by claiming no knowledge of who she was.
The problem is, the Gupta family are very difficult to pin down. It’s impossible to tell how much money, if any, they have donated to the governing party because political parties are not obliged to disclose donations, especially from private sources. Whilst the families are frequently seen together, it is very difficult to prove anything illicit is occurring between the two.
In an uncommon display of solidarity amongst the opposition, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also refused to participate in the QandA today although members were present. Their leader, Julius Malema, was quoted last month saying: “The Guptas must leave the country with immediate effect” and that the country could no longer afford to be held to ransom by one politically connected family that he labelled a “corrupt cartel” with “mafia” tendencies. The EFF had already withdrawn their questions to the President, deciding that they would not engage with him as they saw no value in doing so, and that they no longer recognise him as President.
Malema did, however, say that protesting or tweeting was a sign of laziness, and has instead advocated a call to arms to go to war against the Guptas. Similarly, he threatened all Gupta-linked entities, namely the New Age newspaper and television news channel ANN7, saying they were propaganda machines and would no longer be allowed to cover any EFF events as their safety could not be guaranteed. This is an alarming proposal, to say the least, that will neither solve Gupta-gate nor restore justice to South Africa’s parliament.
It is hard not to share Maimane’s frustration and sadness. Today was symbolic in showing that what remains of a once democratic parliament is an ANC caucas who are willing to protect Zuma. He has, in effect, captured the whole thing. And whilst individual unofficial appointments are concerning, Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas is merely a symptom of a bigger corruption crisis in South Africa. The ANC is no longer the party who serve the people but an organisation who exist only to serve President Zuma.
As the ANC’s own Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, said, South Africa must require more from its leaders.
“There are many parts of transacting between government and business which have gone seriously wrong and if we don’t stop it, we’re going to become a kleptocracy.”