/ 28 June 2024

New faces, old scandals: The familiar staleness of South Africa’s 2024 National Assembly

National Assembly: 13 Steps To The First Sitting Of Parliament

We’ve sold ourselves on the story that these were watershed elections. But beyond the novelty of the ANC’s loss of majority, there is a familiar staleness. 

The National Assembly has taken shape this week. And although the parties holding on to the seats have changed, the people sitting in them evoke the same apprehension that has always itched under our collective collar. As in the past, there is a long line of characters who, euphemistically speaking, few would call stately.

Scroll through the list of MPs and you will easily spot crooks, racists, race-baiters, troublemakers and general malefactors. All the major represented parties are guilty of fielding at least a couple of those categories — with some more egregious than others.

It’s too early to judge how this parliament will perform, but the notion that 2024 will be a refresh for our politics must surely be declared stillborn. 

There could be no better metaphor than the ANC’s own step-aside rule. Implemented ostensibly as a contrivance to usher in Cyril Ramaphosa’s new dawn of accountability, it has, at best, been used selectively and inconsistently. 

The party’s former spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, took his oath in parliament this week. The corruption-accused erstwhile sports minister, currently out on bail, claimed he was compelled to fulfil his duty by virtue of his status as an ANC list nominee.

A partner in the imminent government of national unity, the Democratic Alliance has also been an easy target on the issue of diversity, or lack thereof, on its list. And it was determined to bring Renaldo Gouws to its benches despite past moronic utterances. It was only after another clip resurfaced of Gouws saying the K-word that the party was compelled to admit that it was “not a fake as initially suspected” and sent him to the naughty corner.

Staring at unity government leaders from across the aisle is the new opposition uMkhonto weSizwe party. It’s hard to know where to begin with its list.

To anyone who pays attention to the news, It would have been surreal to see John Hlophe sworn into our legislature. We watched his disgrace play out over years in the judiciary, where the judge president of the Western Cape was impeached for gross misconduct. Des van Rooyen needed only a weekend to entrench his name as a byword for the peak of state capture. They will have the company of Andile Mngxitama, a race-baiter whose only political quality is his fealty to Jacob Zuma.

The beautiful thing about our democracy is there are no barriers to entry; anyone, irrespective of background or qualification, can become a public representative. But that process is undermined when parties go to parliament unperturbed by the quality of people they bring. Until that changes, “watershed” will be little more than a buzzword.