Political Watch

SA’s political storm clouds keep building

Will 2015 parliament open ‘normally’?
Openingof parliament.jpg

The stormiest session of the South African parliament since 1994 ended last week with signs that worse is to come when it resumes its activities with the next session on 12 February next year.

The tensions of unresolved issues, mainly revolving around the position and person of President Jacob Zuma, keep on building and the storm clouds are growing ever darker – somewhere, sometime, something has to give, and when it does it is not going to be pretty.

In fact, South Africa is left badly on edge by a parliamentary session in which the boundaries of an orderly, constitutional and rules-based democracy were severely stretched and tested. Frankly, the country is lucky that up to now it has not turned out worse, even tragic.

Imagine for a second the possibility that a member of parliament might have been fatally injured when public order police took over control of parliament earlier this year. Or, what could have happened if Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader, Julius Malema, had been badly injured when he was manhandled by a security guard on his way to a meeting with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa?

Whatever happens with the EFF’s court action to try and turn their temporary suspension from parliament around, they will be there when parliament opens next year. The EFF is on record as saying that “… we will be back for the State of the Nation” (by the president) in February.

Malema told supporters the EFF fully intend disrupting the formal opening of parliament unless Zuma heeded opposition parties' calls to answer questions on the Nkandla controversy in the legislature.

“If Jacob Zuma does not come to answer questions between now and the State of the Nation, then he must know he is not going to give that State of the Nation,” he threatened.

The atmosphere in and around parliament at the end of this year’s session was such that speaker Baleka Mbete was not willing to accept Malema’s warning of “blood on the floor” as a mere figure of speech. She found it necessary to address a letter of warning to party whips that no disruptions would be tolerated at the final special sitting of the National Assembly.

In light of the pattern that has developed this year of political parties mobilising supporters inside and outside parliament during crucial debates, one can just imagine the grim security risk analysis – and the security measures going with it – for the normal ‘pomp and ceremony’ of the opening of parliament in February 2015.

Where lies the blame?

The bulk of the blame for the atmosphere hanging over parliament at present rests on the shoulders of the governing ANC for their insistence to shield the president at all costs from parliamentary accountability and their attitude towards opposition parties of “we will teach them a lesson” with our majority. Nevertheless, opposition parties are far from blameless.

The EFF’s ‘rapping choir’ tactics during Mr Zuma’s question time session – later mimicked by the Democratic Alliance – can hardly be described as rational debating or acceptable parliamentary conduct. EFF member Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela calling Mr Zuma a “thief” was a misuse of parliamentary privilege. His refusal to vacate the podium on orders of the speaker was an act of anarchy.

To what extent the situation has drifted beyond the control of political leadership was illustrated by Mr Ramaphosa’s failed attempt to cool things down. He was in trouble the week before last with sections of the ANC’s caucus for his attempts to find a compromise with opposition parties in an effort to try and restore some workable decorum to the National Assembly.

For all parties in parliament the situation has now developed into a zero-sum game. This situation is unlikely to change unless something dramatic happens or an initiative to defuse matters at multiparty leadership levels takes place before 12 February next year.

by Piet Coetzer

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