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