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.

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