No nor­mal­ity

The chaos and row­di­ness of Par­lia­ment re­cently re­flects ac­cu­rately the state of the na­tion

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - BAR­BER­SHOP GIRL Ran­jeni Munusamy

WHEN t ele­vi­sion w as s till a nov­elty and sit­ting in a class­room was pun­ish­ment f or a rest­less child, ther e was noth­ing more thrilling than be­ing as­sem­bled to watch an e vent of na­tional im­port ance.

It was the mid­eight­ies and the apartheid gov­ern­ment was try­ing to in­doc­tri­nate its pro­pa­ganda on im­pres­sion­able minds. So we were made to watch the open­ing of Par­lia­ment, which some­one in authorit y pr obably thought w ould im­press and build p atri­o­tism among young childr en in r acially se gre­gated schools. It didn’ t.

Some­where bet ween the p arade of sol­diers r ep­re­sent­ing the oppr es­sive force of the ap artheid r egime and P.W. Botha tak­ing the na­tional sa­lut e, the hair­pulling and chair­kick­ing started in our small school hall.

No amount of r ep­ri­mand­ing and threats of de­ten­tion could keep the fid­gety horde quiet and even­tu­ally we were dis­patched b ack t o our clas srooms.

I thought about this on T hurs­day night while watch­ing the fi­nal se ssion of the Na­tional Assem­bly for the year.

There I was try­ing to make sense of it all while mem­bers of Par­lia­ment be­haved lik e r owdy schoolchildr en — quite a r ole r ev­er­sal.

The spe­cial sit­ting was called to deal with un­fin­ished bu­sine ss f or the y ear, which in­cluded the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers’ (EFF) dis­ci­plinary mat ter.

The ANC­dom­i­nat ed P ow­ers and Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee had rec­om­mended sus­pen­sion with­out pay for EFF MPs who dis­rupt ed pr oceed­ings in P ar­lia­ment in Au­gust while de­mand­ing that Pres­i­dent J acob Zuma p ay b ack the money f or ben­e­fit s he r eceived at Nkandla. As has bec ome the tr end re­cently, the EFF at tempted a fil­ibus ter to pr event the r eport be­ing adopt ed.

What en­sued w as hours of ar gu­ing and in­ter­rup­tions, and a clash of wills with the pr es­id­ing offic ers. The ir ony is that Par­lia­ment now makes for riv­et­ing tele­vi­sion view­ing, as the the­atrics of MPs t end t o be mor e ent er­tain­ing than an y lo­cal so ap oper a.

The diff er­ence bet ween this P ar­lia­ment and the one of three decades ago is that the se ar e our democr at­i­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are meant to rep­re­sent all our needs and in­ter­ests, in­stead of a pri vi­leged f ew.

Yet you watch the pro­ceed­ings in be­wil­der­ment, w on­der­ing w hat ne w depths the “hon­ourable mem­bers” will plunge t o ne xt.

The ANC has been ar­gu­ing that the an­tics of the op­po­si­tion ar e aimed at un­der­min­ing the work of gov­ern­ment. It be­lieves that the EFF and Demo­cratic Al­liance have united to cause “an­ar­chy” and em­bar­rass the pres­i­dent and mem­bers of the cab­i­net.

Op­po­si­tion p arties claim that the pres­i­dent, backed by the ANC, is dis­re­spect­ing the con­sti­tu­tional im­per­a­tives of ac count­abil­ity and p ar­lia­men­tary over­sight. They be­lieve that noth­ing is more im­por­tant than hold­ing the pres­i­dent to ac­count. As Deput y Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa dis­cov­ered last week, there ap­pear s t o be no w ay t o bridg e the di­vide, and it is likely to carry over to next year. But what hap­pens ne xt?

Do we watch aghast as the pan­de­mo­nium con­tin­ues in Par­lia­ment, or do we want the dec orum and dail y grind of pass­ing le gis­la­tion and dis­cus sing de­part­men­tal work t o r eturn?

What type of Par­lia­ment best rep­re­sents the s tate of South Africa at present? The truth of the mater is that the pomp and cer­e­mony of the open­ing of Par­lia­ment, while be­ing an im­pres­sive dis­play, is f ar re­moved from South African life, just as it was 30 years ago.

Our coun­try is in a state of con­fu­sion and is lead­er­less. Peo­ple are look­ing for an­swers as to why ser­vices have bro­ken down and the de­liv­ery of ba­sic ser­vices is not c om­ing their w ay. E skom is a prime e xam­ple of ho w a s tate­owned en­ter­prise can be run into the ground, threat­en­ing the en­ergy sup­ply of the na­tion and our eco­nomic fu­ture. Ac­count­abil­ity for this is not f or­th­com­ing. So per­haps it is appr opri­ate that P ar­lia­ment, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our demo­cratic will, is in a s tate of chaos.

Why should there be a façade of nor­mal­ity and deco­rum when the state of our na­tion r eflects the op­posit e? • Ran­jeni Munusamy is a politic al jour­nal­ist and c or­re­spon­dent f or the Daily Ma ver­ick.

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