South Africa: Why Mbete must step down as Parly Speaker
February 16, 2015
Image credit: Parliament, RSA/YouTube
Baleka Mbete’s cockroach comments were wrong, ill-informed, and should not be uttered by anyone, especially someone who is a Speaker of Parliament. Such comments, read in light of what happened during the Rwandan genocide, are alarming.
Although it would still be wrong, I’d rather President Jacob Zuma had maybe called Julius Malema and his fellow MPs “cockroaches”.
In 2011 when Malema called Helen Zille a cockroach, after which President Zuma took to the podium at the same venue as Malema, I warned against his remarks. I even suggested at the time that maybe that is what Malema was taught at ANC’s Political School, which he was supposed to have been attending during that period following a recommendation of the ANC Disciplinary Inquiry.
Zuma did not reprimand Malema for referring to Zille as a cockroach. That was wrong of Zuma too. A cynic would ask, what did one expect from Zuma – he is the same person on whose behalf Malema went around the country insulting anyone who differed with him. Malema even declared that he would kill for Zuma.
Mbete should have known better. She should have known that such comments are wrong. More importantly, she should have known that such comments would be invoked by her detractors – especially opposition parties in Parliament – to call for her resignation. The opposition has questioned her impartiality and bias towards the ANC and President Zuma in particular.
She cannot demand respect when she has the nerve to call members of the opposition cockroaches. Respect is earned. She certainly did not earn any with her cockroach comments.
Whereas I did not agree with opposition parties when they demanded last year that she be removed asa Speaker, her comments over the weekend have changed my view. I find myself agreeing that she must resign or be removed. Additionally, I believe that opposition parties should not allow her to chair the Post-SONA2015 Debate.
Irrespective of where and when she made the comments, including whether she was off duty as Speaker, Mbete’s views about the EFF will not change. She will always perceive of EFF (and its MPs) as irritating cockroaches. An apology will not fix the damage and embarrassment that she has caused, not just as a senior ANC NEC member, but also as the Speaker of Parliament.
As a society, we need to acknowledge that certain public responsibilities* should limit what we do and or say publicly or privately. Public officials must exercise self-restraint. Indeed, everyone enjoys a right to freedom of expression. However, this right has limitations.
Last year, you’d recall, Mbete told Malema that she is not his equal, suggesting Malema should respect her. Malema disagreed and I think he was right. Her retort has been to tell her comrades in North West — and by implication, in other parts of the country — that Malema and his EFF MPs/members are cockroaches to be squashed with whatever tools at the disposal of ANC. This, in my view, is a demonstration that Mbete cannot be trusted and can no longer be allowed to be Speaker of Parliament. Therefore, she should step down.
*These include the Speaker of Parliament, Chapter 9 institutions Heads, Judges, Ministers, MECs, the President, CEOs, among others.