President Jacob Zuma answers question in the National Assembly on Thursday. Picture: Trevor Samson
By Khulekani Magubane and Wyndham Hartley, Business Day Live
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma had a surprisingly soft landing in the House on Thursday, in his final appearance before the National Assembly for the year.
Presidential question time has come to be associated with disruptions by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), including chants of "Pay Back The Money".
This time Mr Zuma tip-toed away, leaving opposition leaders dissatisfied at his hubristic remarks over the importance of the African National Congress (ANC) to SA, as well as the quality of his answers.
For the third time in a week, Mr Zuma played up the role of the ANC in the birth of democracy in SA.
His remarks followed questions about whether the appointment of his former adviser Vusi Mashinini as chairman of the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) was made to safeguard ANC fortunes for next’s year’s local government election.
At the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal elective congress two weeks ago Mr Zuma told delegates in his capacity as the party’s president that the ANC came first and the country second. He reiterated this view in a statement released by the ANC.
In Parliament on Thursday, Mr Zuma called democratic SA the brainchild of the ANC when questioned about these remarks by EFF MP Hlengiwe Maxon.
When Ms Maxon asked Mr Zuma if Mr Mashinini’s appointment was aimed at tampering with elections — a fear raised by opposition parties — Mr Zuma said he had nothing to do with his selection as IEC chairman.
"For starters, Mashinini is not my friend. He was a colleague hired on merit to assist the president. And where he is now, he is hired on merit. There are judges involved in this kind of thing and they chose him because of his abilities," Mr Zuma said.
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Geordin Hill-Lewis challenged Mr Zuma to state whether he put the country first, saying party-based patronage and failure to deliver services to SA’s residents indicated that the president prioritised his party before his country.
"Whether you speak in Mumbai or in Parliament or at a KwaZulu-Natal conference in Durban you always speak as the president. You are the president of the country. That is not a hat that you can take on and off.
"Can you please rephrase that nonanswer you gave earlier and state whether as SA’s president or as the ANC’s president, you put the country first," Mr Hill-Lewis said.
Mr Zuma’s reply was: "When I speak to ANC members I speak to ANC members. When I speak to the country, I speak to the country. The ANC fought for a democratic SA before it existed. The ANC is taking SA to its prosperity. No other country can do that except for the ANC," Mr Zuma replied.
Speaker Baleka Mbete blocked the DA’s attempt at getting Mr Zuma to account for reported plans for the purchase of a R4bn jet.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane exclaimed the House was "protecting the president".