S Africa politicians trade apologies for cockroach jabs

Julius Malema accepts apology from ANC leader and issues an apology of his own for calling leader a cockroach.

s africa parliament fist fight
Julius Malema's EFF party has lit up parliament since joining the National Assembly in May [Reuters]

South Africa’s politician Julius Malema has apologised to a fellow opposition leader Helen Zille for referring to her as a cockroach five years ago.

Malema’s apology came after National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete herself   apologised for calling him a cockroach in an address to a provincial ANC meeting last Saturday.

“I also want to apologise to the leader of the DA (Democratic Alliance) for having called her a cockroach myself, when I was very young,” he told South African media on Wednesday.

“I now know what it feels to be called a cockroach.”

At the time, Malema, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League back in 2010, had asked supporters “to remove that cockroach [Zille] by voting the ANC into power”. 

On Wednesday, Mbete said in a statement released by the ANC that her comments against Malema were ” inappropriate”.

“The way in which they came across was unfortunate and regrettable …  I withdraw my remarks unreservedly,” she said.
But political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser told Al Jazeera that Mbete’s apology was difficult to accept because of the label’s strong connotations with the Rwandan genocide.

“To use this type of language in such a sensitive political climate is unacceptable,” he said.

Even if the apology is genuine, the quality of the Speaker has been consistently poor, and she should resign

by Eusebius Mckaiser, political analyst

Calls to resign

Mckaiser said the apology itself was flawed because there was no reference to “cockroaches” in the statement issued by the ANC.

“Even if the apology is genuine, the quality of the Speaker has been consistently poor, and she should resign,” Mckaiser said. 

Mbete has been under the severe criticism for her alleged poor handling of the National Assembly amid an aggresive push for answers from President Zuma over the utilisation of state funds to upgrade his private residence.

The office of the Public Protector found in March 2014 that Zuma had unduly beneffited from non-security upgrades to his home.

Mbete, despite her position as Speaker of the Assembly, remains the National chairperson of the ANC.

Critics say her position in the ANC compromises her ability to function in a non-partisan manner as Speaker of the parliament.

On Wednesday, Wilmot James, a chairman of the DA, wrote an open letter to Mbete, asking her resign.

You are unfit to be Speaker and if there is any honour left in you, you should resign,” James wrote.

The exchange of apologies on Wednesday topped a remarkably tumultuous two weeks in South African politics. 

Last Thursday, scuffles broke out in parliament at South Africa’s annual State of the Nation address, when security guards entered parliament and violently removed  EFF’s leaders for interrupting Zuma’s address.

Malema’s EFF party said before the speech they would ask Zuma to answer questions about the $24m worth home upgrade. 

Whereas parliament has been the scene of scuffles before, state security also allegedly shut down mobile and internet signals in parliament, drawing the ire of journalists and the public .

South Africa’s parliamentary sessions have changed dramatically since the inclusion of EFF into the National Assembly after gaining 6 percent in May’s election.

The EFF made headlines when they dressed in red overalls and plastic helmets, as miners and domestic workers in parliament sessions in symbolic reference to their constituency.

While the ruling-ANC remains the most popular party in the country, there is rising discontent over unemployment, a crippling power crisis and a government, critics say, growing increasingly out of touch.

Source: Al Jazeera