“Honorable MP, we are here to serve you” – these are the first words I get at the Cape Town International Airport, a day before the swearing-in of new MPs in Parliament. As I walk into the airport, about 10 parliamentary employees compete to help me. They are friendly and eager.
They know I’m new, part of the Juju crowd, and they ask where my red beret is. One steward hands me over to another crew of about five people, who all stand up and greet mw. I know this is a new world of “dishonorables”, as a friend of mine calls members of Parliament.
The guy who pledged to “serve” is at it again. “Brand new BMW, just for you,” he says as he ushers me into the car. The driver gets a crash course on how to drive the slashmobile. The discussion is in Afrikaans, but I get it – my driver is as green as the MP he is about to drive.
So we start, and soon we cruising in a damn cold new BMW. I ask him to either raise the temperature or shut the air conditioner off completely. He looks at the bewildering lights and pokes here and there. Nothing! We are freezing. I reach over and get something right – I fear he might crush the car trying to sort out the air-con.
He asks if I have a car like this. I laugh. I say to him: “They are already corrupting us on our first day.” He let rip: a torrent of complaints about how government wastes money and doesn’t pay the people who matter. I tell him that politicians are generally the scum of the earth. He pours out more, even managing to tell me the Democratic Alliance is just like Cope. He pauses and then asks: “Aren’t you one of them?”
I assure him that there is a new breed that has just came in. I say he must watch them. There is silence till I’m dropped off at the hotel. They gave me a smoker’s room. The smell of cigarette is unbearable but, as a soldier, I endure. We are not here for hotel rooms, I tell myself.
During the swearing-in, I’m seated next to Commissar Magdalene Moonsamy. We wonder about the “affirmation” and the “oath”. If you take the oath, you end saying “So help me God”, and then the affirmation: “I do.” We chuckle at the irony of the person next you saying “So help me God” and you responding “I do.”
I say the simultaneous reading of the affirmation and oath by groups of 10 is like the Tower of Babel – God’s gemors of languages subverted the crazy idea of building a tower to heaven. I look up the gallery. Someone winks. I think a pair of binoculars would help. The election of speaker and president should have been fairly short affairs, but no – the DA decides to pull a childish stunt, moving for a second nomination of the speaker and therefore forcing a vote. How irritating.
As we break for lunch, a fellow-fighter coaches me on what to do should the DA nominate again. “You will have to object, commissar,” he tells me. “You will say: ‘Honorable Chief Justice, can the DA sit down? We are not here to play.'” I laugh. Another fighter says that when there is the nomination for president I must move for our commander-in-chief – but only for 2019. Bells ring. We’re back in the house. The seating reminds one of how battery chickens are treated: they are kept in cubicles or single cells so small they can’t turn around; they are fed, forced to breed and then discarded.
As for food and Parliament, I have no doubt if one doesn’t stay away from the food provided there that in no time one will look like a battery chicken. A food fundi, looking at the parliamentary food, exclaimed: “Atrocious! Not good, even for looking at.” I think the state of food speaks to the problem of post-colonial gluttony. The night of after the first sitting of Parliament I had a nightmare. The mace was carried by strange white giants. It was like being in hell. I woke up prematurely. This nightmare is not over.
Andile Mngxitama is an EFF MP