Forget gastronomy and gumboots, we are here to work
In his Letter to Parliament, Moloto Mothapo explains some of the basic workings to new members.
Dear New Parliamentarians,
It is not really my place to do the welcoming in this Parliament, but I’m taking the liberty of doing it nevertheless. Call it tjatjaragheid – I call it ubuntu.
So, welcome and congratulations on being one of the 490 chosen to represent the people of South Africa in this august institution. It must have been a frantic first few weeks in the “corridors of power”. Being new comes with its inherent challenges. You might have thought, what a strange phenomenon this humongous and complex place is!
It can’t be easy hopping through meetings in this mazelike structure, acquainting yourselves with the strange Westminster parliamentary culture, not to mention the enormous burden of being an “honourable member”.
I can imagine you missing some of the sittings because you couldn’t locate the venue on time or didn’t internalise those curiously branded papers, such as ATCs (announcements, tablings and committee reports) or the order paper (programme of the house). I hear the rabble-rouser in you squawking: “Sabotage!” Take it easy; just regard it as a natural self-orientation process.
Many have gone through this ordeal and today have blue parliamentary blazers to prove it. Young Communist League stalwart Buti Manamela would tell you that in his early days he would mistakenly walk into the ladies’ instead of the oversight committee meetings. See, it happens to the best of us.
It hasn’t been an easy start to this term, has it? What, I hear you thinking aloud, is with the red brigade courting headline-grabbing stunts at every turn? You will eventually appreciate, as I’m certain they will too at some stage, that such acts are typical of new entrants with so much to prove and loads of energy to spare.
Remember Cope? Yes, the Congress of the People that came (arrived in Parliament amid much fanfare and screaming headlines), saw (challenged decorum and rules), conquered (made a spectacle of itself and disrupted sittings) and died (virtually disappeared after the most recent elections).
Thus far, the impact of the beret revolutionaries is felt only in our sore jaws – a result of their constantly jaw-dropping antics and the laughter in response. I’m certain you’d agree: the recent surge of public interest in Parliament is good. But would it not have been better if it was driven by substance rather than theatrics? Just the other day I overheard some banter between MPs, with one of them lamenting her daughter’s observation that our Parliament has become so “entertaining”!
Amid all of this, I regret you had to learn through the press that there is a plot orchestrated elsewhere to fatten you up for the next five years of your stay here. You must be wondering: Do we really have to deal with such unproven claims of “unhealthy” parliamentary meals, when we should be seized with real and burning issues affecting the communities we represent?
This is like having to put up with the red brigade’s campaign for a decent parliamentary medical aid for themselves and their families. Mind-blowing, given that a few months ago they promised voters they would reject such benefits. Edmund Burke probably had such revolutionaries in mind when he asserted that “hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises for, never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing”.
This spurious meals claim portrayed you guys as insensitive fat cats. I had to deal with Western stereotyping from the international media, asking why “a Parliament in Africa, where the majority live on a dollar a day, would overfeed politicians tons of fatty food on a daily basis?”
What garbage! As you would know, the food served at parliamentary meetings is neither unhealthy nor intended for exclusive feasting by MPs.
As an institution that prides itself on belonging and being accessible to the public, Parliament is responsible for the welfare, including feeding, of members of the public who daily travel from all over the country to participate in committee meetings. The food isn’t really for MPs, but for the visiting public. MPs have designated restaurants for convenience. A range of healthy alternatives is always on offer on all these menus for members of the public at committee meetings and MPs at restaurants.
MPs are not always blameless, and neither is the parliamentary food. But I’m sure you would agree that, in this case, both the food and MPs suffered unfair castigation.
So, amid all these diversionary and inconsequential matters, I trust you will keep your eyes on the ball, that you will spare neither energy nor effort to serve the people of South Africa. After all, that’s why you’re here – not for gumboots, overalls, sandwiches and theatrics.
I wish you well during your term of office.
Moloto Mothapo is the spokesperson for the ANC caucus in Parliament