ANC uneasy in the driving seat
DIDN’T want to write about the chaos in parliament last Thursday. The reason being that we would all either have watched it live or caught up with the footage and reportage by the time this column lands.
But it would be a huge mistake to treat crucial moments in our politics as fleeting, as frozen in time, as unconnected to a larger pattern. And so I want to both mop up an aspect of the detail that is under the radar, and contextualise last Thursday with reference to a general feature of ANC governance.
First, it has been correctly pointed out by everyone and his mother-in-law that the speaker, Baleka Mbete, lacked control over proceedings and must take a large chunk of responsibility for the general chaos that ensued.
Two bits of evidence in support of this assessment must be underscored. When Mbete told parliament, with an honesty usually associated with someone who had one drink too many, that she didn’t feel like recognising any of the opposition MPs, in effect she thereby uttered her own resignation words.
How can anyone be genuinely impartial or be seen to be impartial when they’ve just confessed that multiparty politics pisses them off ? Not only did the speaker get annoyed that her exercise of power was being tested by opposition MPs, her authroity was further eroded when she agreed with opposition MPs about what the day’s full agenda should be but only after the ANC chief whip dictated to her to give in to opposition requests.
This raises an obvious unanswerable question for Mbete: Isn’t it proof of bias that a request made by opposition MPs don’t persuade you but the same request made by the ANC instantly does?
The other bit of evidence that the speaker isn’t fit to continue in that role was the feeble defences on Friday morning for why the presiding officers aren’t responsible in any way for the day before.
Mbete, who leads the lot, looked the nation in the eye and refused to tell us who ordered the riot police, who switched off the link to the parliamentary channel, and generally painted a picture of opposition MPs as mischief-makers who created the conditions that resulted in police being dispatched.
This is not only disingenuous but also shows scant regard for our constitution. If Mbete values open proceedings in the name of transparent government - which she is legally obliged to value - how could she not agree with reporters that the blackout of parliamentary proceedigs when police
Ientered was antithethical to an open and transparent parliament?
The fact that she doesn’t get the gravity of the unconstitutional acts of Thursday means she must lose her job.
Her only defence was to suggest that the blackouts protected the dignity of the house. What nonsense. Buildings don’t and can’t have dignity. Only people can. And unless Mbete thought police would violate some MPs’ dignity, what was there to blackout? At any rate we have a right to witness dignity being obliterated.
Besides, the act of arresting me doesnt violate my dignity. So there’s no need to block visuals even of an MP being escorted out, even in the event that reasonable force is used.
Institutions can’t have dignity either. We misspeak when we say so, and on this occa- sion Mbete hoped misspeaking would end tough questions about turning off the television feed.
But there’s a bigger context to this detail that the ANC must reflect on. The ANC is very uncomfortable in the driving seat of power. This is astounding. Despite having a huge victory margin at the elections twenty years into democracy, the ANC behaves as if it is on the brink of losing power.
It is almost as if the ANC refuses to believe it has moral and political legitimacy. It shows the kind of paranoia you associate with a governing party scared of not being in office.
The consequence of this psychology is that the ANC is constantly in survival mode rather than taking the mandate it’s been given and getting on with the business of government.
The opposition, in the process, gets away with underperforming, too. Sure, the filibuster tactic was great. Thursday was a good day at the office for the opposition. But a paranoid ANC enabled them to shine. The ANC should instead give Mbete the space and permission to do her job with impartiality and take the parliamentary fight to the opposition with excellent, evidencebased debate. But that requires a degree of self-belief our governing party lacks.
And I’m not, by the way, suggesting we should discount disappointment in Mbete because of this ANC paranoia. She has a legal duty to ignore her comrades’ discomfort. She chooses not to do so.
Just as the ANC is gifted an opposition that often makes silly tactical errors, it’s also true that the opposition is gifted a governing party that is its own worst enemy.
DISINGENUOUS: Speaker Baleka Mbete’s bizarre appeal to the dignity of a building shows a propagandistic mind at work, clutching at straws, says the writer.