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Thu Feb 23 18:11:44 SAST 2017

What's so funny?

Jan-Jan Joubert | 2015-02-18 00:40:36.0

President Jacob Zuma laughed while parliamentary democracy unravelled in front of a television audience of millions during his State of the Nation address on Thursday.

And he couldn't stop his smirk from turning into a smile yesterday as he was accused of betraying the legacy of Nelson Mandela and of being out of touch with the true state of the nation.

Opposition leaders launched bitter attacks on Zuma as they got their first chance to reply to his speech.

"You are not an honourable man," Mmusi Maimane, the parliamentary leader of the official opposition, the DA, told him.

"You are a broken man presiding over a broken society," said Maimane, looking Zuma in the eye as he spoke from the podium.

Maimane said South Africans knew during Thursday night's debacle - when security services jammed cellphone signals in parliament and police forcibly evicted Economic Freedom Fighters MPs - that the democratic order was in grave danger.

''And what did you do? You laughed. You laughed while the people of South Africa cried for their beloved country," he said.

''You laughed while trampling Madiba's legacy - in the very week that we celebrated 25 years since his release.''

Zuma could not suppress a smile as Maimane added: ''Honourable President, we will never forgive you for what you have done." The DA leader told Zuma that people could blame apartheid, the global financial system, even Jan van Riebeeck, for South Africa's woes, but "in our hearts, we know what the problem is. We have allowed one powerful man to get away with too much for too long. This man is here in our presence today. Honourable President, in these very chambers, just five days ago, you broke parliament," said Maimane.

Next at the podium was Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, described at the weekend by the Speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, as a "cockroach". The term has terrible connotations after it was used to set Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Malema called Zuma a "hooligan" for the tactics used to evict EFF MPs from the National Assembly, including "pulling us with our private parts".

"We are not scared of you," he warned a grinning Zuma. "Whatever it takes, and however long it takes, by whatever revolutionary means, we will take over this country with the aim of total liberation and emancipation."

Malema, who repeatedly referred to Zuma as "president of the ANC" rather than simply the president, quoted many figures to disprove the contention that the government has a "good story to tell".

Zuma would be known as the president who failed on a variety of aspects, including land and education policies, he said.

The stage was set for yet another showdown when Malema said the question of when Zuma would pay back money spent on his Nkandla home would be asked again during presidential question time on March 11.

Malema claimed that the ANC's references to economic freedom were plagiarised from the EFF.

"The Freedom Charter says trade and industry shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people. What we know is that the ANC is committed to free-market capitalism and will never control trade for the benefit of the people. Many goods and services imported into South Africa do not have tariffs, even in areas where the right-wing and neo-liberal godfathers, the World Trade Organisation, say you can have tariffs," Malema said.

"The Freedom Charter says all shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose, but when homeless people in the Lusaka community in Mamelodi East occupied unoccupied land your government sent police to forcefully remove them.

"In Nellmapius, where 7000 people had signed up for houses, your government not only sent police to forcefully remove them, it also sought a court interdict to disallow them from occupying unoccupied municipal land," he said.

Earlier yesterday, Speaker Mbete denied that parliament had ordered the scrambling of the cellphone signal in the parliamentary precinct and told journalists they were "not the target".

But she admitted that she had been "aware that there was a plan for certain equipment to be deployed" for the State of the Nation address.

She said a "department of state" - later revealed to be the National Intelligence Agency - had operated the jamming device, but did not say who or what, in fact, the target was.

A group including major media houses, the South African National Editors' Forum and rights organisations made an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court yesterday for the prohibition of any further use of scrambling equipment in parliament.

The case was postponed until Tuesday.

Additional reporting by AFP, staff reporters

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