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Mbete, a disaster as National Assembly speaker

So, it is all okay then? National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has apologised for labelling her bête noire Julius Malema a ‘cockroach’. After all, to err is human, to forgive divine?

No, it is not okay. If the farce that played out around President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) were to have a rational resolution, not only would the speaker be axed but also the police minister, the national police commissioner and the state security minister. All these people either oversaw or tacitly approved the deployment of armed police in the Assembly, the jamming of telecommunications, and the apparent use of photos of opposition MPs as targets for shooting practice.

That they are all perfectly safe from censure is evidence, were any needed, that the concept of taking personal responsibility is entirely absent from the DNA of ANC politicians. In fact, legalities and moralities are irrelevant, all that matters is that their actions were exactly what Number One demanded of them, or at least expected of them.

It beggars belief that Mbete, the supposedly steady and balanced hand on the tiller during parliamentary squalls, would ever use the inflammatory term ‘cockroach’, the word that ignited Rwanda’s genocidal mayhem of 1994. To do so during a period when South Africa is experiencing one of its periodic xenophobic convulsions and foreign shop owners are being violently attacked by nationalistic mobs in the townships — while the police for the most part stand idly by and on occasion have participated — is almost criminal.

Not surprisingly, the Economic Freedom Fighters complained that her usage was calculated to incite violence against their leader. One might take them more seriously were it not that this is the same Julius Malema who in 2010 called Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille a cockroach that should be ‘removed from power’ as premier of the Western Cape.

He was then speaking at an ANC Youth League rally and was followed on the platform by Zuma, who uttered not the faintest rebuke of his then favourite political Rottweiler. Instead Zuma burst into that old crowd stirring favourite, his rendition of Umshini wami (‘my machine gun’).

Mbete, in fact, had little option but to apologise. She faced not only a court interdict and the South African Human Rights Commission censure, but the certainty of procedural chaos in the Assembly the moment she tried to the speaker’s chair. Small consolation that her apology at least had the virtue of being unambiguous — ‘I withdraw my remarks unreservedly. I apologise unconditionally to South Africans, to Parliament and to the Honourable Julius Malema’ — unlike Malema, who this week only grudgingly withdrew his slur of five years ago after Zille pointed out the ethical anomaly.

Mbete has been a disaster as speaker. Her arrogance and pettiness in the chair during last week’s Sona joint sitting was thrown into stark relief by the unruffled and evenhanded Thandi Modise, chair of the National Chamber of Provinces. Modise virtually took over the proceedings when it was apparent that Mbete was, again, about to loose her cool.

Athough Mbete retracted her cockroach remark, she hasn’t retracted any of the other scary utterances she made in her capacity as ANC national chair at the North West provincial party congress. The media and the EFF, she warned, were all part of a Western plot to unseat Zuma and take over South Africa.

‘They [the EFF] want to take this country so that they must take over the mines and share them with friends they were seen gallivanting with in Europe … They are pawns in a bigger scheme of things where some Western governments are involved.’

These unnamed Western countries had an issue with Zuma running the country because he was ‘a stubborn, rural man … committed to ANC policies. How can a rural man sit with them on international structures?’

Mbete also let slip that the state security apparatus seems to have either infiltrated the EFF or was illicitly eavesdropping. The ANC ‘knew everything’ EFF had planned for Sona ‘including what the red overalls discussed. We knew who was going to stand first and what they were going to say’.

If the West is indeed orchestrating insurrection, using the media and the EFF, this deserves a weightier forum than a party provincial congress. And if these allegations are to be made public, some evidence is required.

Otherwise it must be seen for what it likely is, a Mugarbage propaganda tactic that Zanu-PF has used successfully to stigmatise any critical voices as the illicit and unpatriotic dupes of Western imperialism.

That’s just one of many of the tragedies of Zuma’s ANC. Its sixth-most important office bearer’s compass reference points for political discourse are genocidal incitement in Rwanda and the dynamiting of democracy in Zimbabwe.

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