/ 19 November 2014

Parliament: Don’t touch me on my president (Zuma)

President Jacob Zuma.
President Jacob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma won’t attend parliamentary sittings. In fact, sighting of the president has been nonexistent since the #paybackthemoney debacle, which ensued on August 21. Is he extinct? Has someone filed a missing persons report? Or checked the lost and found bin?

Cowardly or curiously, the president has instead opted to “send in the clowns”. Not an unusual or unacceptable statement since the recent onset of chronic rowdiness in the National Assembly has lead the media and other soap boxes such as Twitter to refer to Parliament as a circus.

Some of the main attractions in the big top have been Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who, with metaphorical whip in hand, lashed out at parliamentary ­members and angrily demanded that the president and his office be respected (because, of course, not only can you demand respect, you can get a foot soldier to do so for you. That is what a great leader deserves). Only then would he show face.

Pictures by David Harrison. (M&G)

Ramaphosa went further and blamed opposition ­parties for chasing Zuma out of Parliament and that the disrespect would negatively affect relationships between the ­executive and Parliament. (Tsk, tsk opposition parties, you bunch of big bullies! Shame on you!)

Star attraction
Another poster-worthy mention of one of the features of this national circus is none other than the outstanding Baleka Mbete. Come one, come all. Some say she is mad, others think her a legend, purely because she truly is so very hard to believe.

Either way, she is bound to impress with an astounding performance that lacks total impartiality and any degree of objectivity … ever. You have never seen anything like this. And if you ask her, neither has she, apparently. She will state clearly and with conviction that she “does not recognise”. We’re not sure if this is a visual problem on her part or just a mental glitch.

A display of defending the president like this you have never seen before. And don’t you know it? Parliament – and the comings and goings thereof – has never been this popular.

We suspected that the allocation of seats to the Economic Freedom Fighters would kick things up a notch, but not ever to the extent of these demands, debates and the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties joining forces to make one big bully that has Zuma cowering with his tail between his legs.

Many citizens feel that the state of proceedings is a disgrace, an ugly scar on the face of the South African government, oozing puss and staring the rest of the world in the face. Waiting for them to see and judge and laugh at. Embarrassing.

A joke, but a democratic one
Others find it refreshing, engaging, entertaining. And it’s about high time. But let’s not disregard the fact that recent news about Parliament has brought with it some worrying references:

  • Cheering and jeering by galleries and audiences (not allowed according to the rules);
  • The intervention (often unnecessary) of riot police;
  • Physical altercations;
  • Mbete’s inability to recognise anyone – not to mention her constant calls for “order” (without any food ­actually being delivered – perhaps the riot police are feeding on this at the door, carbo-loading for their next attack?); and
  • Censorship and infringement of freedom of speech (several reports say that editing processes are being implemented to cut parts of the circus antics so that they are not televised).

Still, no one wants to watch a room full of a majority who are waiting – mouths wide open – for their leader to momma-bird feed them and regurgitate the next worm. Is there anything more boring than that? I would honestly rather have an in-depth conversation about the weather with a faux-leather elbow patch ripped from a smelly blazer.

Those who aren’t waiting are dozing off quietly in their seats, sleeping off bottles of Chivas or dreaming of the next elaborate way to spend money on an overpriced meal.

Chaos has ensued and the nation is interested. This is where democracy is made or comes undone. You should watch. You should engage. You should be interested.

And no, it’s not the most relaxing (or perhaps constructive) way to engage with events that occur in Parliament – but you are engaging, aren’t you?

I am by no means condoning that this is the only way proceedings should happen but, South Africa, here is your democracy. Here is your birds-eye view of your free and fair country.

And here’s what you know so far:

  • You have a president (still standing) that doesn’t pitch up.
  • No real leaders, but rather a bunch of followers who will defend him at any cost.
  • You have a house speaker who wouldn’t know the meaning of impartiality if it lit a fire under her ass – she’d remain in the chair.
  • And an opposition that’s found in each other allies because of all of this and just won’t quit.