CAPE TOWN — President Jacob Zuma has speared the opposition in Parliament, telling them rights have limits and that the youth wage subsidy is a work in progress.
Although he didn’t mention the controversial Brett Murray painting depicting him with genitals hanging out, Zuma told the National Assembly, in his reply to the presidency budget vote debate, that rights have to be weighed against each other.
“No right is absolute. It must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others,” he told MPs.
“We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that certain rights are more important to certain sections of South African society than others.
“Freedom of expression is as important and as understood and appreciated in Constantia as it is in Gugulethu,” he said.
Zuma quoted extensively from former ANC leaders to illustrate the pain apartheid and racial superiority have caused black people.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that this country has a history, a very, very painful history whose deep scars still show,” he said.
“Life did not begin in 1994. No amount of denial will take this historical fact away.”
He also quoted former president Nelson Mandela in the dock during the Rivonia Trial, when he said: “The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy.”
Without mentioning the party by name, Zuma took a swipe at the DA by saying “some” quoted Mandela selectively. The DA has previously accused the ANC of moving away from Mandela’s ideals of non-racialism and respect for the Constitution.
Zuma also said the “wounds of the humiliation of Sarah Baartman” should not be re-opened. Her brain and genitals were stored in a pickle jar in London and Paris until 1974.
Turning to the debate about the youth wage subsidy, Zuma said although the ANC had been “addressing it all the time”, others only recently “discovered it and now they’re running around”.
He was referring to the DA’s march on the matter to Cosatu house, which ended in bloodshed when members of the labour federation forcefully resisted the marchers.
He continued, implying they went about the youth wage subsidy the same way that colonisers did when they “discovered” Cape Town or other places. “You arrive at a place, you discover it,” he said.
Zuma responded to what opposition MPs said in the debate earlier this week, but he didn’t mention by name DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who called on him to resign.
Zuma also chided MPs for their rowdy behaviour. He said Mama Phumeza Mhlanga, who was his guest during his speech in the National Assembly yesterday, came to him this morning, traumatised.
“She left this house early yesterday. She was shocked and disappointed by the conduct of some honourable members,” Zuma said.
Zuma said he trusted that the nation-building summit he announced yesterday in the wake of the debate sparked by Murray’s painting “will give us all the opportunity to turn our backs on denial and confront this painful history, with a view to finding final closure and healing. Our people have suffered enough indignity”.
The summit is due to take place in July.
Mazibuko said in a statement afterwards Zuma’s reply had “no direction or vision, just more of the same old vague commitments and deflection of the real issues at hand”.
She said it would be best for him to announce that he would not seek a second term as president.
The ANC is set to elect leaders at its congress in Mangaung in December, and Zuma looks set to make himself available again.
Mazibuko also said Zuma failed to say in the speech that government has failed to implement the youth wage subsidy he announced in 2010.
She said if he was serious about combating youth unemployment, “then he would have stood up to un-elected Cosatu and announced today that this policy would be implemented immediately”.