Volume 16, No. 05, 14 February 2017
Tail behind the wrecking-ball Parliamentary disruptors at your own peril
By Umsebenzi Online
On the evening of the State of the Nation (SONA) address last Thursday, and in the days following, a problematic media-created narrative still prevailed. However, it is a narrative whose credibility is now beginning to wear as thin as EFF leader Julius Malema`s claims to saintly martyrdom.
Nonetheless, but now with wavering degrees of conviction, most of the media continue to frame the anarchic disruption of SONA events as violence perpetrated by "Zuma`s militarised executive" upon a hapless EFF on the hallowed grounds of parliament.
Even when the body of a news story tells one tale, the framing headline often tells another. A glaring example was a Huffington Post story on Monday headlined "Parliament to investigate violent eviction of EFF" - as if Parliament`s investigation will be looking at the violence supposedly inflicted on EFF members and not, primarily, at the havoc, injuries and damage wreaked by EFF MPs and supporters.
Who has militarised parliament? During Nelson Mandela`s presidency SONA events were marked by an even larger ceremonial military presence than we saw last week, as well as the discreet positioning of armed military personnel on bridges and traffic islands for kilometres along all key freeway approaches to parliament. No-one in their right minds complained about militarisation, appreciating that there was still a small fanatic white right-wing lurking in the shadows. Apart from a brief, one-on-one exchange of fisticuffs between two MPs, South Africans never saw chaos within the Parliamentary precinct or National Assembly for two decades, including the first five years of Zuma`s presidency.
Parliament was often boisterous and noisy as any democratic parliament deserves to be.
It was the arrival of a platoon of helmeted and booted EFF MPs with self-assigned military ranks ("commander-in-chief", "commissar") that introduced a military swagger inside the legislature. It was the "commander-in-chief" himself who last year boasted on TV that the EFF would overthrow a democratically elected government "through the barrel of a gun". A stunned interviewer assumed it was a figure of speech, but Malema (still unpunished for this treasonable announcement) was categorical - No, he meant it literally.
To point the finger at the EFF as the prime culprits and deliberate catalysers of the chaos is not to excuse disgraceful language emanating from some ANC back-benches. It is not to overlook the flaws in the Presidency, or corruption in and out of government, about which the SACP has been forthright. It is not to evade wondering why the clearly overwhelmed and outmanoeuvred presiding officers are not better prepared and more decisive. These and many other matters require serious political attention.
But, as an increasing number of commentators are belatedly realising, we are entering into dangerous waters - not as the ANC-alliance, alone, but as a country. An obsessive hatred for President Zuma that turns a blind eye to a rabid anti-constitutional demagogy is simply playing with fire. It is a stance that, perhaps, sees the EFF as a useful instrument for another agenda. But this is an exceedingly dangerous game.
There are those who should know better. There are those who should be providing leadership. This is why it was particularly disappointing to read Archbishop-Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane telling us that: "What we got were expletives yelled from the government benches, the sickening sight of white-shirted securocrats beating up members of the opposition, and the arrogance from the speaker of parliament and the chairwoman of the National Council of Provinces." (Sowetan, 13 February 2017).
The fact of the matter is that the EFF declared in advance that they would forcibly prevent President Zuma from delivering the State of the Nation Address (Business Day, 9 February 2017). Indeed, for over an hour, they prevented the President from presenting the State of the Nation Address. They used disorderly "points of order" to disrupt the event. They even spoke without being recognised in terms of the rules of procedure. And it was primarily they who, during the course of their disruption of the proceedings, yelled expletives.
President Zuma was not the only target for their filthy language. Malema verbally attacked the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, implicitly referring to her (as he has done explicitly in the past) as a "used" condom that now finds itself "dumped" by its "user".
We must not allow these disruptive tactics to defocus the nation from discussing our major challenges. We must return to this issue shortly and consistently and reflect on the context, content and strategic tasks of the necessity to move our democratic transition on to a second radical phase with economic transformation constituting the central, but by no means the only, pillar of the national imperative to systemically eliminate the prevailing legacy of economic exploitation, inequality, unemployment and poverty. The disruption of our democracy will only benefit pre-existing economic forces by stalling genuine, radical economic transformation. And by "radical economic transformation", we mean not private corporate, not personal, not state-captured family interests propagated in the name of "blacks in general".
It was opportunist but not coincidental that the EFF was joined in the disruptive agenda by the DA. The DA flip-flopped between an initial intervention by its leader, Mmusi Maimane to allow the President to discharge his duties to account to Parliament and a disruptive agenda led by its White brat-pack that collaborates but simultaneously competes with the EFF, the DA`s voting fodder. The latter prevailed. Maimane abandoned his initial call for order and toed the line of disruption. COPE and AgangSA MPs appeared to be seeking to be noticed. Joining the disruption would of course earn them some few lines or minutes in a media agenda where the negatives overwhelm the positives.
What our country needs is mature, collective leadership whatever our political differences. Whether you happen to be an archbishop-emeritus or the leader of the official opposition, tailing behind the EFF wrecking-ball, is a stupid and exceedingly short-sighted tactic.
Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class