Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen during a debate on the Section 89 Phala Phala report in Parliament today.
Eleven days ago, Mr President, you were ready to quit. Mind made up and speech written, you’d resigned yourself to resign.
And this wasn’t some noble sacrifice in service of your country. No, you were going to resign because the alternative was unthinkable to you and possibly fatal to your party.
The alternative would mean answering questions, before a committee of Parliament, about the large stockpile of money you’d stashed away in your farmhouse. Money that you claim was nothing but a simple misunderstanding – a bit of Christmas day cash buffalo shopping combined with some lax admin and bookkeeping.
But let me assure you, not many people in this house and even fewer people out there believe that you have been truthful about the origin of that money, or why it spent two months hidden in your sofa, or what you had intended to do with it, or why you tried for two years to cover up any evidence that it ever existed.
Those questions all remain largely unanswered, and it was the prospect of having to answer them, under oath, that convinced you to write your resignation speech.
That is how damaging the Phala Phala truth is to you personally, and to your party.
And it was only when your ANC comrades reminded you how your party normally deals with these inconveniences – how easily the ANC abuses its majority in this house to crush any notion of accountability – that you then decided to cancel your resignation.
Satisfied that the protection of your caucus would make the questions go away, you decided to step back into the ring.
Of course, we’ve been here before, not so long ago.
We all sat in this house, debate after debate, vote after vote, and watched an ANC majority shield Jacob Zuma from half a dozen Motions of No Confidence and one Impeachment vote.
We had to watch in embarrassment as shameless MPs all nodded in agreement with ridiculous videos about fire pools.
Our Parliament became the laughing stock of the world as 250 grinning, heckling ANC MPs reduced this once-august house to a mindless defender of the indefensible.
And when Justice Raymond Zondo wrote his final report on State Capture, he reserved his harshest words for the sell-outs in Parliament who so effortlessly trampled their oath of office in service of a corrupt president and his handlers.
“Never again,” we were told in the wake of the damning Zondo Report. Never again would Parliament be declawed and disempowered, as it was in those dark days. Not under this president who rode in majestically on the promise of a new dawn and pledged to do things differently.
And yet, here we are again. What has really changed?
Then it was Nkandla. Now it’s Phala Phala.
Then it was fire pools and cattle kraals. Now its couches stuffed with dollars.
Then it was President Jacob Zuma. Now it’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.
But it’s the exact same modus operandi: As long as you have the numbers in Parliament, you can make any scandal go away.
If that’s how you intend to vote today – one unified shield against accountability and oversight, just like you did in the Zuma days – then shame on you.
And President Ramaphosa, if that’s what you expect and demand of your caucus, after everything we’ve been through in the wake of state capture and the Zondo Report, then you, sir, are no different to your predecessor.
So I ask that every member thinks very carefully about what today’s vote means.
We’re not voting to find a president innocent or guilty of an impeachable offence. We’re not weighing up evidence to reach a verdict. That only happens later.
Today is simply about letting due process take its course.
It is about acknowledging – as the authors of the report did – that the large gaps in the story around the hidden and stolen dollars warrant further inquiry. An inquiry that must be undertaken by a committee of this Assembly.
That is the test before this house today. Have we learnt anything from the past, or are we prepared to break Parliament once more in defense of a leader who doesn’t want to be held accountable?
Honourable President, I don’t need to tell you that our country cannot afford an indefinite period of turmoil while you battle for your political life, and fight to evade accountability.
We simply do not have the luxury of time and resources. We are in deep, deep trouble.
We have an electricity crisis worse than war-ravaged Ukraine, with South Africans facing upwards of twelve hours a day without power.
We have a crime crisis, with our citizens coming under daily attack from murderers, rapists and violent robbers.
We have an unemployment crisis where 43% of our people – most of them under the age of 30 – cannot find a job.
For 60 million South Africans, these crises are very real. And to tackle them, we need a president with both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road ahead, and his head in the game
Honourable members, you do have a choice today, and the world is watching your decision.
So I ask of each member here today: Remember your oath of office, remember who you are meant to serve in this house, and then vote in favour of adopting this report.