Chaos in Parliament: ANC should have walked out

With the shenanigans of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) last night in Parliament, the ANC had the nation behind it even before the State of the Nation Address (Sona) began.

The ANC (which I must confess I am a supporter of, for purposes of full disclosure) had already won before the proceedings even began. But it made several rookie errors. It succumbed to emotionalism as opposed to cold and calculated rationalism.

Here are the things we knew going in to Sona, that the EFF:

  • was going to disrupt the proceedings;
  • would want to create an atmosphere where they would be thrown out, creating chaos in the house;
  • would want to be thrown out by force on national television;
  • would ask questions they were not supposed to ask at that point in time; and
  • would provoke whoever tried to force them out of the house in order to make sure that there is violence, thus proving that the ruling party is undemocratic.

The above are all predictable and should have been anticipated and countered in a rational manner.

We know that the ANC knew that the state of the nation would be disrupted. The initial responses by Speaker Baleka Mbete were great. She was prepared. She was calm and collected and did not respond to the baiting by EFF. That is already a lesson on how the ANC needs to deal with EFF. Be prepared. Know the rules and anticipation of what will happen.

There was a great Fortune magazine cover years ago about United States Chief Justice John Roberts and his work ethic before he was appointed chief justice. The article mentioned how he would prepare for cases, especially before the Supreme Court.

Justice Roberts, who is one of the youngest (if not the youngest) chief justice in the history of the US, would write down every possible question he thought that the judges would throw his way and he would prepare an answer for every single one of those questions he anticipated.

He wrote down notes and responses to the questions. He’d have a deck of cards with these questions and have an answer to every single one of the possible number of questions he imagined he would be asked.

After practicing the questions and answers sequentially, he would shuffle the cards with the questions and pull one out randomly and ask himself the question then answer immediately – even jokes ready to amuse the court. That way, he was always a step ahead because he had already anticipated what would be asked and answered in a heartbeat.

With Sona, the ANC knew what was going to happen. There was no question about it at all. EFF had telegraphed what it wanted to do. Namely, disrupt the proceedings. Baleka’s preparedness was good to see and it was on display and there was no emotionalism at the beginning.

When you are prepared and you know your story, you won’t be flustered by emotions, you just respond to the facts even if the other party is being irrational.

If we are to look at Justice Roberts’s example as a learning. The ANC should have considered all possible permutations and had responses without being emotional in an emotionally charged situation. The EFF’s intention was to create the chaos that ensured. And it succeeded.

The mistake that the ruling party made was to jam cellphone signal in Parliament if that is indeed what they did. This was not necessary because a vast section of the country was behind the ANC anyway. They believed that what the EFF was doing was disrespectful and a disgrace, even if they agree with the “Pay Back the Money” movement.

People still want to see order in Parliament. It goes to questions of free speech and the ANC wanting to hide things. That was emotional response, not a logical one.

That created the impression of a party that did not want people to know what was going on in the house. Thus the ANC had premeditated force. Exactly what EFF wanted. Make no mistake, the EFF is not a rational party. It is an anarchist organisation. Its policies are gimmicks and chaos for the party is the order of the day.

The DA, too, had premeditated its intentions. All DA members of Parliament wore black. It was clear that they wanted to show that walk out. A sign, for them, of the death of democracy.

They too wanted chaos in Parliament, led by EFF. Clearly it was a coordinated effort between the two parties even though they will both deny it. The DA knew all too well that the “Pay Back the Money” point of order was not right for that forum, so they sat down and said nothing as EFF spoke.

When EFF was removed from the chamber, they raised questions about guns in the house. Which was a rookie error by the ruling party, it should have ensured that no guns enter the chamber. There should have been no guns there. We see parliamentarians in other countries throw punches at each other all the time without interference of security.

If the police entered with guns, then that’s another mistake. Some cops were throwing punches there. The officials who went in to remove the EFF members should have been well-trained officers in the art of restraint. People who are so well trained that they would not need to throw punches even if punches are thrown at them.

Basically, highly-disciplined individuals. People who should have been trained for months. Much like the American Civil Rights movement which trained people who went to occupy whites-only restaurants. Blacks who were part of this protest were spat at, called named, struck at, they were taught not to respond in kind when the actual moment came.

Because calling them names and spitting at them was intended to cause an emotional respond, a lashing out and thus showing that they are indeed violent. The cops who went in were not well trained to contain the situation.

What would have happened for example if the ANC had decided to walk out of the Sona rather than face the anarchy? I know that the view is that the ruling party has to show strength and ownership of the house. Since the mood of the nation was behind the fact that the interruption of the speech was not right, I believe that would have been a stronger action.

Not prepared to play games
It’s not cowardice, but rather, a show that the party is not prepared to play childish games. All this would have been avoided. The ANC comes across as mature and not wanting to engage in childish antics. Never mind the spin that the DA and EFF will make out of it.

Nobody would question that the ANC was in charge even if it walked out. No matter the claims of the ANC relinquishing rule that would surely be spun by EFF and DA. People of the country would have most probably been glad to see that.

The problem ultimately is not with the EFF. Rather with the leadership of the ruling party. Of course I know that this is not a popular statement to be made, especially by one who supports the ANC. That is the biggest failure. Failure of leadership and foresight when it comes to EFF.

The EFF is going to lose ground anyway. Accelerate its loss of ground by showing them to be childish and you as the grown ups. Do we want answers about Nkandla? Of course we do.

Yesterday was a disgrace to our democracy. Nobody won. We lost as a country. Worse, there was no leadership shown. Leaders in the ANC need to stand up because we have entered dangerous territory.

Those who show mature leadership and sober-mindedness need to lead us out of this wilderness. It’s possible but we need the will. The ANC needs to stop playing the EFF’s game.

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