Speaker ducks debacle

Baleka Mbete and Julius Malema
Baleka Mbete and Julius Malema
Parliament's presiding officers have closed ranks around National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to help sidestep pleas for her to apologise for calling EFF leader Julius Malema a “cockroach”.

Mbete is at the centre of a political storm after telling delegates at a provincial congress of the ANC in the North West on Saturday that they needed to help the party deal with “cockroaches like Malema”.

Despite her insult on Malema, Mbete said yesterday that she thought it did not “bode well for South Africans to keep attacking each other”.

The statement has been described by the EFF and civil society organisations as hate speech with potential to incite violence and it has also been compared to a similar comment that sparked the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

Asked at a press conference in parliament yesterday if she regretted the statement or whether she stood by it, National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise, her deputy Raseriti Tau and deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli rallied around Mbete, saying the question had no place in a briefing formally scheduled to address what transpired in the house last week during the State of the Nation address.

Tau argued, repeatedly – much to the objection of journalists – that Mbete should not respond to the question because she made the comments in her capacity as national chairwoman of the ANC and not as National Assembly speaker.

And when she eventually decided to speak for herself on the matter after almost two hours of persuasion by the media, Mbete merely adopted a seemingly caucused party political line.

She said discussing her weekend comments would amount to stifling the business of parliament.

“If we were to set a precedent to bring issues of political engagement out there, into parliament we would never start to attend to the business that parliament exists for, so I firmly repeat what the other POs have said,” she said.

The DA and the EFF yesterday asked a joint-sitting of parliament to instruct Mbete to withdraw the remark, but Modise, who was presiding, said she would decide on the matter once she had conferred with the speaker.

Meanwhile, the feud in the EFF escalated yesterday when the party suspended two of its most prominent MPs, Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala.

Litchfield-Tshabalala claimed that there were efforts from within the EFF to assassinate Mngxitama.

Earlier in the day, in a very brief statement, EFF national spokeswoman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi announced that internal disciplinary procedures had been started against Mngxitama and Litchfield-Tshabalala.

“This is strictly an internal process and we shall not be engaging the media about it beyond this point,” said Ndlozi.

But yesterday the two rebel MPs managed to host a press conference at a posh hotel in Sandton, amid heavy police presence.

They again tore into Malema, repeating their allegations that the party was plagued by corruption and a dictatorial style of leadership.

Neither Mngxitama nor Litchfield-Tshabalala attended the parliamentary sitting yesterday afternoon.

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