It should be applauded that we have a democracy where the president can be booed when people are unhappy with the president, said Patekile Holomisa, deputy minister of labour.
He was responding to the DA's Jacques Julius, who livened up an otherwise tame debate on Workers Day in the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday afternoon, by referencing the boos levelled at President Jacob Zuma during Cosatu's May Day celebrations in Bloemfontein, which he described as "a celebration of the booing masses".
"The workers are not silent, they booed your president!" said Julius.
He said the unemployment worsened "due to the treacherous decisions by President Zuma who fires ministers as he pleases to satisfy the greed of the hand behind the throne".
Julius referred to the downgradings by rating agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor's.
"This will severely impact on a generation of workers in South Africa. Retrenchment of workers will be on the cards."
According to Julius, Zuma didn't "bring our country to a halt on his own" as the ANC continues to support him.
Holomisa later took to the podium and said: "We should be applauding the fact that we are such a democracy that when workers who are not happy with leaders ... can express themselves."
"In another era, when we were led by the ancestors of some parties, the might of the state would be unleashed on those preventing the president to make his address."
Holomisa also acknowledged that unemployment was too high in South Africa, but added that it was not the ANC's fault.
After the debate, Thandi Modise, chairperson of the NCOP, admonished "honourable members who did not do what was honourable," and slept during the debate.
"It is disrespectful," she said sternly.
She urged MPs to "stay awake and respect the electorate".
From the NCOP's press box, it was unclear which MPs had nodded off.