It is pointless to try and preserve one’s sanity by turning a blind eye to the political shenanigans of the day. However much one tries, the rambunctious shouts of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) reverberate from the National Assembly of Parliament to our homes on an increasingly frequent basis – so much so that you are forced to look up and take notice.
Whatever your view is of the loudmouth tactics of the EFF, they have managed to bring some people out of their malaise of indifference as well as those who, through despair and despondence at the political high jinks, preferred to wrap blinkers around their eyes.
The litany of scandals that has swathed our president since even before he took office can be draining on the national psyche as we often have to brace ourselves for the latest personal indiscretion, legal battle, alleged financial impropriety and so on and so forth.
Even as we do so, he continues to breeze along, unscathed and unfazed by the rage and discontent. Never has one individual been embroiled in so many a scandal – and faced so little by way of comeuppance or accountability.
As the heat was turned on him in Parliament by his one-time number one fan Julius Malema, President Jacob Zuma started to look withered and weak. The steely mask and grin of indifference he has shown over the years started to crack, because for once he was asked in simple ways to answer a direct question, and account.
There was no wiggle room left, and the setting was not a courtroom but the best stage possible for such an inquisition – Parliament.
Now ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe is calling for Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, to be protected from the robust questioning of MPs in Parliament. What a sad day when a high-ranking party official suggests that the two most senior leaders in the country should not be held to account by the people they serve.
It is contrary to what our Constitution – often lauded and celebrated when it is convenient – dictates. But now, when some of its most basic and clearly spelled-out tenets no longer serve the big men of the day, we want to rearrange it. It is not individuals that Parliament must protect, but the people of the country and the public purse.
We’ve been exposed to many a coarse and unseemly spectacle over the Zuma years: the dropping of charges against him because of the alleged conspiracy revealed by the spy tapes, Schabir Shaik’s dying days being cut short when he walked out of prison to play golf and eat goji berries and wedding planes dropping out of Indian skies and landing at protected South African military bases.
What followed were denials, deflections and obfuscations so thin and infuriating that they eroded public confidence. This will inevitably spawn disrespect, with decorum going out the window.
The office of the president must be respected. Pulling zap signs during a parliamentary debate is crude and childish.
We also need to ask what would prompt such gross behaviour. Not as a means of justification, because hurling insults brings us all down to the gutter (there is no excuse for it), but to understand it. In the case of the EFF, there is obvious political mileage and extensive media coverage to be gained from it.
There must also be great satisfaction in being rude to people who you think treated you unfairly and cast you out of the bosom of the ANC.
The reason, though, the EFF does get mileage out of it is that their members have pointedly raised concerns about matters that have captured the imagination and sparked anger across political divides.
When Zuma was booed in December at the memorial of Nelson Mandela it seemed as if it were the collective sigh or exhaling of a nation, with no other option in the face of consistent stonewalling and arrogance. Such has been the case in Parliament too.
Minister of Water Affairs and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane invoked a colourful Sotho idiomatic expression about buttocks last week in describing the determination with which the ANC would defend Zuma.
It is admirable that the party goes to such lengths to protect its own – if, indeed, the president were under siege from nefarious forces. But that is not the case.
There is a public protector finding that public money was spent wastefully on his home and he must pay it back. What must be fought for – with any body part of one’s choosing – is serving the people who have elected you, and not an individual.
It is not Zuma that the ANC needs to protect – it is the ANC and its once lofty ideals.