Tendai Mugabe Senior Reporter
POLITICAL analysts have condemned South African National Assembly Speaker Ms Baleka Mbete for referring to Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema as a cockroach, describing her statements as reckless, careless and inflammatory.Ms Mbete, who is also ANC national chairperson, made the remarks following chaos that erupted in the South African Parliament last week during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, resulting in fistfights between plain clothes police officers and EFF members who refused to leave the house as they asked President Zuma about money spent on his Nkandla residence.
After the Parliament fiasco, Ms Mbete said President Zuma’s African National Congress should continue its work unperturbed, otherwise “cockroaches” like Malema would spread.
The ANC has since tried to damage control Mbete’s remarks saying she spoke as the ANC national chairperson and not in her capacity as Speaker of the South African parliament.
But director at the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution Lawson Naidoo yesterday said Ms Mbete cannot detach her remarks from her position as Speaker of the house.
“Whether she was speaking as a chairperson or not, it was highly irresponsible of her to call an MP a cockroach, and with the connotations that we know the term has in Africa. I would expect her to retract that.”
EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee, says Ms Mbete’s comments reveal the ruling party’s agenda to incite “black-on-black violence”.
“She meant what she was saying. You can’t call people cockroaches and she didn’t stop there. She called them thugs and said society must make them run in the communities and we’ve already seen it happening in Mogale City.”
EFF members were violently attacked in Mogale, leaving several hospitalised.
Analysts yesterday said Ms Mbete’s utterances particularly in a volatile society like South Africa that periodically engaged in xenophobic attacks on foreigners left one to wonder if a South African can be called a ‘’cockroach’’ what more a foreigner?
The analysts said the last time people were called cockroaches close to a million innocent people were killed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and Burundi pitting Hutus against Tutsis.
The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994, to mid-July, an estimated 500 000–1million Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 20 percent of the country’s total population and 70 percent of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda.
The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police (gendarmerie), government-backed militias including the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, and the Hutu civilian population.
Prominent Harare lawyer Mr Terrance Hussein, described Ms Mbete’s statements were unfortunate especially coming from a senior member of the ANC.
“Such statements are not acceptable in any society in the world,” he said. “That was reckless and careless and it is quite unfortunate that it came from a diehard supporter of the ANC.
“We hope that ANC will take steps quickly to address that and people are going to judge ANC by the way it is going to react.”
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Dr Charity Manyeruke, said Ms Mbete’s utterances displayed despicable levels of disrespect and should be condemned.
She said Malema was fighting a just cause in South Africa and to and equate him to a cockroach was not only unfair, but rather unacceptable.
She said Malema pioneered the campaign against the willing buyer, willing seller arrangement on land, which ANC was also now appreciating.
“It is painful that the South African Speaker called Malema a cockroach,” she said.
“It is lack of respect to a fellow Cde who is fighting a just cause for land redistribution and economic empowerment of black South Africans.
“Such kind of language is not good for human development and has caused problems in other countries such as Rwanda and we know South Africa is a multi-racial country.”
At policy level, Dr Manyeruke said, the statements put into question the sincerity of the South African government to end xenophobic attacks which were always prevalent in that country.
“That comment coming at a formal level such as Speaker of Parliament, is shocking and you then wonder whether South Africa is sincere when it talks about ending xenophobic attacks,” she said.
“Such kind of language was used by Apartheid South Africa describing black Africans and it is now being perpetuated in an independent South Africa.”
Political analyst Mr Alexander Rusero, said South African democracy was put to serious test considering that the whole debate emanated from Parliament, which should be the centre of democracy.
He said it also tainted the reputation of the ANC, which had a history spanning over 100 years.
“The remarks were made from Parliament, which is supposed to be the heart of democracy,” he said.
“Belittling someone for his or her beliefs in a democratic society is irrational. Such statements do not suit well for someone hailing from the ruling party whose ethos and values are still remarkable several years after South Africa’s independence.”
Gweru based analyst Mr Christopher Gwatidzo, said from an African perspective, Ms Mbete’s utterances were tantamount to an insult.
He said African values called for respect for one another and tolerance of divergent views.
“We must not use language that fuel hatred and we need to respect each other,” he said.
“It is not correct to refer to another human being and equating a person also created in God’s image to that, it is actually an insult.
“As Africans, we must be seen promoting peace, tolerance and respect. Insults are not good for South Africa and any other country in this world.”