Political Watch

Politics moving from parliament to pavement dangerous

Parliament going to the streets?

Already back in election mode, there are ominous signs that the main focus of politics in South Africa might shift from parliament to violence-prone street politics.

The signs from various quarters are that the country is running the risk of violent clashes in the build-up to next year’s country-wide municipal election.

Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) seem set to keep parliament as institution under pressure by threatening to disrupt President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in three weeks’ time.

Besides the danger of a repeat performance of last year’s spectacle of police deployment in parliament, judged by some reaction from within the ranks of the governing alliance, it may lead to clashes on the streets surrounding the parliamentary precinct and beyond.

Ironically the latest ‘troops’ eager to defend parliament come from a party that has not yet themselves fought an election for representation in parliament, the South African Communist Party.

The party’s branch in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), at the end of its provincial conference, has vowed to “defend” the president’s delivery of the SONA against the “hooligans” of the EFF. It would not stand by while the EFF turned parliament into a “circus”.

The SACP’s KZN provincial secretary said they planned to “educate” the EFF about “peace and democracy” in an effort to change their ways. They also had plans to organise “mass protests” against them if need be.

Details of what these “mass protests” entail were not given, but if they were to confront the EFF supporters who are bound to be outside parliament on the evening of 12 February, the date of the SONA, it has all the potential to erupt into violence.

That there is a general confrontational atmosphere building in the country is also evident from the way in which events building up to the SONA get reported in the media.

Last week the parliamentary leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, made a strategic move that created a small gap to defuse the standoff between the EFF, the speaker of parliament and the ANC. In a letter to Speaker Baleka the DA “requested” her to convene a special meeting of parliament’s all-party programming committee prior to the SONA.

The purpose of the meeting was to schedule dates for Pres. Zuma to face oral questions in the National Assembly. The suggestion was that an additional fifth occasion besides the normal four per parliamentary session is scheduled. The additional session will then accommodate the completion of the disrupted question session on the Nkandla controversy of last year.

The DA’s request, however, as happened with an earlier request from the EFF to the speaker, in most media reports, became a “demand”.

Wider conflict potential

Besides the more immediate threats of violent clashes around parliament there are also other developments in the build-up to next year’s municipal elections which could trigger political violence.

As they already did last year on municipal land, among others, or at Nellmapius near Pretoria, the EFF at their recent first national conference signalled their intentions to “expropriate” land. The party also plans protest actions in mining towns.

These intentions are set to bring the EFF in direct confrontation with the police, as it did in Nellmapius and against the background of assurances by Pres. Zuma that the illegal occupation of land will not be tolerated. Malema’s response was: “The EFF will expropriate land and the president will pay for it.”

The ANC’s declared intention in its traditional 8 January Statement, delivered by Pres. Zuma, to revive its “struggle era street committees” for its branches to serve “as the leading force to address issues in their communities”, also has the potential to increase tensions – if history is anything to go by.

To this can be added:

• the power struggles that seem to have beset all the existing political parties;

• the growing tensions on the labour front between the ANC-aligned member unions of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and break-away unions involved in the establishment of the United Front to the left of the ANC;

• the potential for service delivery protest to flare up again; and

• the high potential for labour related unrest in what one union leader described as “the year of a bloodbath for job losses.”

It all seems to indicate that the danger levels for politically-inspired violence in the country is on a fairly steep upward curve.

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by Piet Coetzer

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