A game-chang­ing mo­ment in our coun­try’s pol­i­tics

CityPress - - News - MONDLI MAKHANYA mondli.makhanya@city­press.co.za

When ANC par­lia­men­tar­ian Johnny de Lange and his Na­tional Party coun­ter­part Manie Schoe­man fa­mously ex­changed blows in Par­lia­ment about 15 years ago, the Speaker, Frene Gin­wala, was in her of­fice and had del­e­gated the run­ning of the ses­sion to an­other pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer.

Gin­wala spot­ted the ruckus on a TV mon­i­tor in her of­fice and rushed to the Na­tional Assem­bly to take charge.

She took her seat and barked: “Or­der!”

The house fell silent while she scolded the mem­bers for their un­be­com­ing behaviour.

Gin­wala’s au­thor­ity was un­con­tested across the aisles. She was the im­pe­ri­ous ma­tri­arch of the democ­racy, re­spected and feared in the par­lia­men­tary precinct.

The scenes in Par­lia­ment this week were a stark re­minder of just how far South Africa has trav­elled since then.

Af­ter the fra­cas on Thurs­day, there was the pre­dictable blame game and a flurry of traded in­sults.

Thurs­day was a game-chang­ing mo­ment in the life of Par­lia­ment and in the life of our democ­racy. It was the re­al­i­sa­tion of the pre­dic­tion, re­peated so many times since the Economic Free­dom Fighters (EFF) won just more than 6% of the vote in the May gen­eral elec­tions, that South African pol­i­tics “would never be the same again”.

The dra­mas in Par­lia­ment and the leg­is­la­tures fore­warned us of a big­ger mo­ment to come, but few ex­pected it to come so soon and in such ex­plo­sive fash­ion.

Sev­eral fun­da­men­tal things hap­pened on Thurs­day.

The pres­i­dent fled Par­lia­ment. The bul­letins and the next morn­ing’s head­lines did not put it so bluntly, but there is no other way to in­ter­pret Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s in­abil­ity to fin­ish his ses­sion. On that af­ter­noon, in his help­less state, his lame duck sta­tus was con­firmed.

Se­condly, the Speaker’s au­thor­ity was thor­oughly un­der­mined, not just by the un­ruly EFF mem­bers but by her own party. It was ob­vi­ous to the dumbest im­be­cile that Baleka Mbete’s man­date was to pro­tect Zuma, which is in vi­o­la­tion of her con­sti­tu­tional du­ties.

This un­der­min­ing of her au­thor­ity played right into the hands of an EFF that has openly stated that it has come to Par­lia­ment to change the rules of en­gage­ment. On Thurs­day Mbete threw away her power, and will prob­a­bly never fully re­gain it.

Thirdly, Par­lia­ment took the odi­ous step of invit­ing the po­lice into its hal­lowed sanc­tum, a most ter­ri­ble prece­dent.

Had the Western Cape po­lice chief bowed to pres­sure to phys­i­cally evict the re­cal­ci­trant EFF mem­bers from the House, blood could have been spilt in the cham­ber. It would have been an ugly scene that would have played out around the world.

Fi­nally, the EFF es­tab­lished it­self as the agenda-set­ter, knock­ing the DA off the perch it has en­joyed since Tony Leon in­tro­duced the con­cept of mus­cu­lar op­po­si­tion to South African pol­i­tics.

The lead­er­ship of the ANC and of Par­lia­ment will now have to re­assess how to deal with this new phe­nom­e­non. Zuma’s future vis­its to Par­lia­ment are clearly go­ing to be very un­pleas­ant. Ple­nary sit­tings are no longer go­ing to be rou­tine speech-mak­ing ex­er­cises. Min­is­te­rial ques­tion times are go­ing to be prickly af­fairs that the ANC whips can no longer man­age by de­ploy­ing back­benchers to make mean­ing­less points of or­der.

Most un­com­fort­able for the gov­ern­ing party and the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion will be the fact that the public – in­clud­ing many in its own sup­port base – is en­joy­ing the Julius Malema show. Many nod­ded pos­i­tively and mut­tered “it was about time” when pres­i­den­tial ob­fus­ca­tion was met with hooli­gan­ism.

PHOTO: LERATO MADUNA

WITH GREAT POWER... Baleka Mbete glares across the Na­tional Assem­bly while chaos rages on Thurs­day

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