President Cyril Ramaphosa was put through the paces by MPs as he faced his first question and answer session in the National Assembly as president.
As expected, MPs did not pull any punches as they asked gruelling questions on the legal costs of former president Jacob Zuma’s court engagements, land expropriation without compensation as well as the state of the National Prosecuting Authority.
Not all of the president’s answers were popular, particularly those on the subject of land expropriation without compensation.
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota accused Ramaphosa of encouraging a divisive narrative in his answer to the land expropriation without compensation question.
“I’m very disturbed that suddenly we are no longer South Africans. Some are Indians, African, Coloured, White. But the Bill of Rights says we are all South Africans,” said Lekota.
This exchange came after Ramaphosa kept referring to the need for expropriation of land from “white owners” and giving it to “our people”.
This did not sit well with Lekota who questioned who Ramaphosa meant when he said “our people”.
Lekota was quick to remind the president that those who led the struggle fought for all races to be recognised as “South Africans” and not be split along racial lines as he was doing.
Ramaphosa was slightly more popular when he made it clear that Zuma would have to repay the money if he lost the cases he was currently embroiled in - for which taxpayers are footing the bill.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane demanded that Ramaphosa commit to stopping all government contributions towards Zuma’s legal fees with immediate effect and join in the DA’s legal action that sought to have Zuma pay back all the money the state had spent on his legal fees.
EFF leader Julius Malema inquired: “Which law is the ANC ascribing to in covering Zuma’s legal fees?”
Ramaphosa explained that this was being done according to a signed agreement with Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki.
Malema pressed for the specific law that allowed for such a provision at which point the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete protected Ramaphosa by saying: “The president has answered your question and does not have to repeat his answer.”
However, Ramaphosa chose to answer Malema’s question and promised the EFF leader that he would look in to the particular law and come back with an answer for him within the next week.
EFF MP Ntombovuyo Veronica Mente questioned if the same ills of corruption experienced under Zuma when he appointed “his close friend and ally Dudu Myeni to the SAA board” were not being repeated by Ramaphosa in his appointment of his personal friend Sifiso Dabengwa to the Eskom board.
The EFF claimed Dabengwa was the “main man” behind Ramaphosa’s campaign to become ANC leader.
Ramaphosa said he recused himself from the appointment of Dabengwa and explained that he had no ongoing relationship with him “in any manner whatsoever”.
He explained that as a nation “we become fearful because of past experiences” but assured the MPs that with him at the helm, no corruption will take place – continuing on the “new dawn” rhetoric that he had become synonymous for.