The ele­phant in the Assem­bly

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard voices@city­press.co.za

Par­lia­ment is a rum­bus­tious mul­ti­party bat­tle­ground, es­pe­cially nowa­days. No love is lost be­tween honourable mem­bers, who gen­er­ally shout at – or past – each other. So dur­ing the 11 marathon bud­get vote de­bates that took place this week, there was a lot of grand­stand­ing, name­call­ing and de­fen­sive­ness. There was also loads of hot air, as most mem­bers stuck to their dull scripted speeches, amid many points of or­der but few com­fort breaks.

But within the tee­ter­ing walls of Par­lia­ment, there were a few con­struc­tive mo­ments.

On Tues­day, for in­stance, Tourism Min­is­ter Derek Hanekom heaped praise on mem­bers across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum in his clos­ing re­ply dur­ing the de­bate on his depart­ment’s R2 bil­lion bud­get.

In a mix of English and Afrikaans, he thanked mem­bers for their “great and beau­ti­ful speeches”. Say­ing that he re­ally meant it, he said he had ex­tracted many pos­i­tive points about ways to fix do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourism.

Al­though it is stan­dard prac­tice for min­is­ters to glibly thank mem­bers af­ter a de­bate, the min­is­ter was speak­ing from the heart. In fact, he was al­most gush­ing. It was clear he had also lis­tened to and re­sponded to what was be­ing said.

Hanekom ap­pealed for ev­ery­one to work to­gether to find so­lu­tions. “We can’t af­ford to be fight­ing with each other. We all love our coun­try,” he re­minded mem­bers as the coun­try edges closer to the fraught lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions.

Dur­ing the Trea­sury bud­get vote the fol­low­ing day, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han also dis­played con­ge­nial­ity dur­ing his re­ply to the de­bate. He ap­pealed for a new nar­ra­tive to “cre­ate a com­mon na­tional pur­pose”. To deal ef­fec­tively with the threat of rat­ings down­grades, for ex­am­ple, he said labour, busi­ness and govern­ment needed to get to­gether, along with po­lit­i­cal par­ties, “notwith­stand­ing the fact that we are mov­ing into an elec­tion ses­sion”.

Gord­han also looked for­ward to a “cul­ture change” by en­gag­ing with op­po­si­tion mem­bers, in­clud­ing DA Shadow Fi­nance Min­is­ter David Maynier, who in his cri­tique of Trea­sury had am­bi­tiously pro­posed over 300 amend­ments to the bud­get and plans to in­tro­duce four Pri­vate Mem­bers’ bills.

The real chal­lenge, said Gord­han, was to find the kind of lead­er­ship “that puts na­tional in­ter­ests above the scrap­pings that we have to en­gage in dur­ing day-to-day pol­i­tics”.

Hours af­ter th­ese olive branch ges­tures, chaos erupted at the start of the pres­i­dency’s bud­get vote de­bate in the Na­tional Assem­bly. At that mo­ment, the im­me­di­ate stum­bling block to­wards re­build­ing trust and es­tab­lish­ing a new cul­ture was laid bare – the mas­sive di­vide over the cur­rent leader of the coun­try.

Heard is Me­dia24 par­lia­men­tary edi­tor

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