Deputy President David Mabuza on Thursday assured MPs that he had paid for his recent hospitalisation in Russia out of his own pocket, but was shielded by the speaker when opposition MPs pressed him to disclose whether rumours that he was poisoned were true.
“I have covered the cost of my treatment, the travelling, 100%. No money was paid by the South African government towards my treatment,” he said.
Mabuza was replying to questions in the National Assembly. He had been asked by Duduzile Hlengwa from the Inkatha Freedom Party why South African taxpayers should foot the bill for his medical treatment abroad.
It was a supplementary question to one one by the Democratic Alliance’s Natasha Mazzone, who asked whether Mabuza attended any meetings with any person or entity while in Russia.
Mabuza replied: “The trip that I have undertaken to the Russian federation during my leave of absence was solely for the purpose of a scheduled medical consultation; as such the consultation with my long-standing medical team was held as per the objective of the visit and I have been in hospital for the duration of my stay.”
Mazzone followed up by asking if he could confirm that the trip was prompted by him being poisoned.
“Deputy president, while you were gone there was a lot of rumour-mongering going around and, as you know, perception in politics is everything and we were being told that you had been specifically poisoned by members within your own ranks …” she said
“And I feel like it is time for you to be frank about this so we can do away with these kinds of rumours. You had a medical team in Russia, which for many people seems slightly James-Bondish, if you will,” she said, adding that her own medical team was more humbly located in Pretoria.
“And we all know what the Russians are famous for, so Deputy President why are South African doctors not good enough that we know that we have some of the finest doctors in the world … Are the rumours that you were poisoned true.”
Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula would not allow the question.
“Your question was whether the deputy president met anyone in Russia other than [for] his medical treatment. Now you are going on and on about poisoning, which has nothing to do with that, and I really want to say to you that you are out of order.”
Mazzone said she raised the question in response to Mabuza volunteering that he had been hospitalised.
She persisted, asking Mabuza to tell the chamber whether he consulted any doctors who specialise in poisoning, or anyone who dealt with a mooted nuclear deal with the South African government.
It earned her a tongue-lashing from the speaker.
“If you are in hospital, you are attended to by doctors, of course. Now you are introducing a different [matter] of nuclear what-what. I think you are really out of order, and please allow me to protect the deputy president.”
Mazzone said the matter should be referred to the rules committee, and Mapisa-Nqakula said she was welcome to do so.
She then added: “I honestly believe it is not correct to discuss health issues related to members. I think the rules committee must discuss that matter … Really, what we are going to be doing, the next thing, is to want to know if so-and-so is sick, what is there, and yet we all know there is something called doctor-patient confidentiality.
“I think it is insensitive; I think it is improper … from where I am sitting it is totally unacceptable.”
Questions have been swirling for years about Mabuza’s frequent bouts of ill health and trips to Russia to seek treatment. He was on an extended visit to Russia during the violent unrest in July.