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How Cogta budget debate was marred by electioneering

  • The Cogta budget debate was marred by politicking ahead of the local government elections.
  • Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was confident her department would be ready for the elections.
  • FF Plus MP Michal Groenewald was kicked out of the virtual meeting.

It was evident the local government elections are months away because the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ (Cogta) budget debate descended into electioneering.

It also resulted in an FF Plus MP shown the virtual door.

Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma presented the budget for her department in a virtual meeting to a mini-plenary of the National Assembly on Thursday.

She said, despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, the Demarcation Board managed to hand over its work to the IEC.

“We are, therefore, confident that because of the experiences we have gained in the various by-elections, we are ready for the 2021 local government elections,” she said.

We will also use the 19 May polls, which involve 40 wards in seven provinces, with 362 965 registered voters, to refine our approaches. We remain confident that the regulations, protocols and plans we have put in place for these and the nationwide October elections will create an environment for free and fair elections.

The debate was characterised by politicking.

During her speech, Dlamini-Zuma described the government as “caring”.

FF Plus MP Michal Groenewald said: “Honourable minister, you are lying to South Africa. The government is not a caring government. It is a government in chaos.”

“I am not a liar,” Dlamini-Zuma said calmly.

House chairperson Madala Ntombela asked that Groenewald withdraw his comment.

“If the minister can show me one municipality that works, I’ll withdraw,” he said.

Again, Ntombela asked him to withdraw.

“I will not withdraw because it is the truth,” he said.

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After he refused another request to withdraw, Ntombela asked that he be removed from the platform.

It is highly unusual for FF Plus MPs to defy the presiding officers and be shown the door. It is often one of the parties who asks that decorum is preserved when the house gets heated.

DA MP Cilliers Brink said the words “step aside” have gained new political meaning in South Africa.

“While voters can this year tell ANC councillors and mayors to step aside, it is also time for the country to side-step failed ANC policies,” he said.

He said to prevent the financial and institutional collapse of municipalities, one should go back to the beginning of democratic local government.

“To quote Aristotle: ‘The mistake lies in the beginning… ‘well begun is half done’ – so an error at the beginning, though quite small, has the proportion of a half to the whole matter’.”

He said the first mistake was cadre deployment and the second was race-based employment equity plans.

DA MP Eleanore Bouw-Spies said: “Of course, the DA makes mistakes, we aren’t perfect. But, on average, we outperform the ANC in every single municipality where we govern – mayor for mayor, audit report for audit report, streetlight for streetlight. And that’s why people move from towns and cities, where the ANC governs, to towns and cities where the DA governs, in the hope of a better life and better opportunities.”

ANC MP Bheki Hadebe took Brink on.

He said, in the DA, several black leaders, like Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mmusi Maimane, Patricia de Lille and Bonginkosi Madikizela, had to step aside “to protect white supremacy”.

“The only thing that needs to step aside is white supremacy and the DA,” he said.

ANC MP Dikeledi Direko said on the eve of a local government election, it is understandable that some MPs are “like popcorn in hot oil”, and it is in the DA’s nature to overreact.

She said the ANC drew a line in the sand against corruption.

In her response, Dlamini-Zuma said to Bouw-Spies: “Yes, the DA municipalities are well-run.”

But, she added, you wouldn’t see the impact there if you go to some of the townships.  

ALSO READ | Mmusi Maimane: Local government’s future is not in political parties

She said Brink was right that things went wrong at the beginning, but he was wrong on when the beginning was.

“Things went wrong at the beginning when our land was stolen and taken by force. When our people were put in dormitories to provide cheap labour in the cities.

“When education was free and compulsory only for white people, that is what went wrong at the beginning.

“When rural areas were left without electricity, without clean water and proper roads, no schools, no clinics, no hospitals, and we were left there to provide cheap labour for the mines and the farms, that is what went wrong at the beginning.

“When there was job reservation for white people, who may not have gone beyond primary school, but jobs were reserved for them, that is what went wrong in the beginning.

“When the economy was monopolised by a few, and blacks were left out of the economy, that is what went wrong at the beginning.”

Early in her speech, Dlamini-Zuma said: 

We take this opportunity to denounce the recent attacks by the Israelis and renew our solidarity to the Palestinian people’s legitimate struggle for freedom. We also call for the cessation of hostilities.

ACDP MP Wayne Thring said: “The ACDP recognises the right of every sovereign nation, including Israel, to protect itself from unprovoked attacks.”

He called on the government to play a role in brokering peace and finding a two-state solution.

EFF MP Nazier Paulsen objected and said Thring’s “support for apartheid-Israel” had nothing to do with the Cogta debate. He was supported by EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi.

The budget for cooperative governance is more than R100.8 billion in the 2021-2022 financial year.

Of this, R96 billion is mainly transfers and subsidies to municipalities.

For traditional affairs, R173.3 million is allocated to support developmental traditional leadership, which promotes participatory democracy and rural development, as well as agriculture.

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