Mantshin­ge­lanes in Par­lia­ment

Mondli Makhanya

CityPress - - Voices -

There is this lame joke about one of those knobker­rie-wield­ing se­cu­rity guards of old who has in­struc­tions from the makhu­lubaas not to let any­one on to the fac­tory premises after 6pm, re­gard­less of who it is. Then one day, the makhu­lubaas has to re­turn to the of­fice after work­ing hours to col­lect some­thing he had for­got­ten on his desk.

The se­cu­rity guard sternly tells him he has in­struc­tions not to let any­one in at night and, as an obe­di­ent em­ployer, he will not break the rules.

“But I am the one who gave those in­struc­tions,” says the boss.

“Yes it was you and you stressed there should be no ex­cep­tions to the rule. If I let you in, you will fire me,” re­sponds the se­cu­rity guard.

After a long time plead­ing with the guard, the ex­as­per­ated boss gives up and goes home. He re­solves to give new in­struc­tions to the guard the next day.

The joke is usu­ally aimed at demon­strat­ing the ob­sti­nacy of that era of se­cu­rity guards be­fore the ser­vice be­came more pro­fes­sional.

Back then, em­ploy­ers hired the most obe­di­ent and in­tran­si­gent (and largely ru­ral) males for that job. The un­ques­tion­ing stub­born­ness of the mantshin­ge­lanes, as they were known, was the guar­an­tee of safety.

The joke played out in my mind this fort­night as I watched the be­hav­iour of ANC mem­bers in Par­lia­ment’s ad hoc com­mit­tee on Nkandla.

They walked into the com­mit­tee room armed with a brief from Luthuli House that they would have to pro­tect Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma at all costs.

When the meet­ing started, they stuck to their in­struc­tions. It was left to the op­po­si­tion mem­bers to make sense. They ar­gued con­sti­tu­tional points, made le­gal in­ter­ven­tions and ex­hausted their daily oxy­gen al­lo­ca­tions try­ing to drum sense into the ANC par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

The great­est irony was watch­ing the Free­dom Front and the Inkatha Free­dom Party, who were spoil­ers dur­ing the con­sti­tu­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions of the 1990s, ed­u­cat­ing the ANC about the Con­sti­tu­tion. But it was to no avail.

Like the knobker­rie-wield­ing se­cu­rity guard, they re­peated what the makhu­lubaases at Luthuli House had told them to say. Be­tween switch­ing on the mi­cro­phones to read their Luthuli Housepre­pared scripts, the ANC mem­bers drew stick men on their note­books, ex­changed What­sApp mes­sages with friends about the tragedy of Gen­er­a­tions go­ing off air and pol­ished their nails.

In the end, op­po­si­tion MPs marched out of the meet­ing in­stead of stay­ing and le­git­imis­ing a pre­de­ter­mined out­come.

Left to play by them­selves, the ANC mem­bers spent the re­main­der of the time con­vinc­ing each other what a paragon of virtue the pres­i­dent was and why all th­ese hor­ri­ble peo­ple should leave him alone. They stopped just short of break­ing into a ren­di­tion of Umshini wami at the end of the meet­ing. A re­port will be com­piled to rec­om­mend Zuma for a Nobel prize for his self­less ser­vices to hu­man­ity.

This be­hav­iour is not new. The men­tal­ity of the knobker­rie-wield­ing se­cu­rity guard took root dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Thabo Mbeki when party whips drilled into cau­cus mem­bers that their job was not to pro­vide over­sight and hold the ex­ec­u­tive to ac­count, but to pro­tect min­is­ters from pesky op­po­si­tion MPs.

By the time Zuma took of­fice, Par­lia­ment had been se­verely weak­ened by the fact that the cul­ture of the ANC was not to ques­tion, but to do as in­structed by party bosses.

This ap­proach suited the cri­sis-prone Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion whose min­is­ters needed all the pro­tec­tion they could get from their com­rades on the benches. And so Par­lia­ment was fur­ther re­duced to a rub­ber stamp of Luthuli House de­ci­sions – whether it was leg­is­la­tion, a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue or an in­ci­dent that a min­is­ter needed to clar­ify, the ANC mem­bers could be re­lied upon to stymie any de­bate.

Even when our sol­diers were killed on an un­ex­plained mis­sion in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, ANC par­lia­men­tar­i­ans sought to shield De­fence Min­is­ter No­siviwe Mapisa-Nqakula rather than seek an­swers. They even an­grily called for a pre­ma­ture end to the ques­tion ses­sion, say­ing they needed to head home for the week­end break.

This degra­da­tion of Par­lia­ment is not to be taken lightly – re­spon­sive and strong na­tional leg­is­la­tures are built over time. They de­velop stature and re­spect as a re­sult of the work they do on be­half of the elec­torate. They gar­ner the trust of cit­i­zens be­cause they are ro­bust.

But the par­lia­men­tary cul­ture the ANC has built is the very op­po­site of this. New par­lia­men­tar­i­ans ar­riv­ing from their pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions as en­er­getic union­ists and com­mu­nity ac­tivists are turned into sheep. They are sim­ply re­quired to toe the line for a fat cheque at the end of the month and the priv­i­lege of be­ing called hon­ourable.

The sad pic­ture we wit­nessed in Par­lia­ment last week is a re­sult of this cul­ture.

What is wor­ry­ing is that the longer this kind of be­hav­iour con­tin­ues, the more this cul­ture will be en­trenched. Kow­tow­ing to the de­mands of those in party head­quar­ters will be­come the norm. And fu­ture MPs will be­lieve that once elected, their role will be just like the se­cu­rity guard stand­ing at the fac­tory gates with a knobker­rie.

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