Parliamentary debate or debacle

AN innocent bystander would not be blamed for thinking that the South African National Assembly is a noisy classroom.

Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete is the harassed school teacher who is trying, but failing to keep the rowdy students under control.

Her deputy, Lechesa Tsenoli, who has the demeanour of a no-nonsense headmaster, has often been called in to fill her shoes.

The sittings in Parliament are supposed to offer the public an insight to the engaging intellectual debate that takes place around key issues of national interest and legislation.

However, this past year has shown that the proceedings have often deteriorated into a circus. Moreover, Mbete, as the chairperson of the ANC has been accused of being impartial in this role of Speaker.

Other indictments on her character are that she is arrogant, egotistical and ineffectual.

So it comes as no surprise when Parliament opened last Thursday with opposition MPs baying for her blood.

“You must go!” they chanted in a rhetoric reminiscent of how EFF disrupted parliamentary proceedings when they broke out into a chorus of “pay back the money” while President Jacob Zuma was in the middle of addressing the House regarding the parliamentary upgrades at Nkandla.

I tell you Nkandla has become a noose around the president’s neck and a bone of contention which will continue to be picked at every turn.

Fortunately, Zuma is in Australia to attend the G20 Summit so he was spared from the scathing and acerbic remarks arising from the vociferous debate on the Ad Hoc Committee’s Report on Nkandla.

The report essentially cleared the president of any wrongdoing regarding the security upgrades. However, opposition MPs were not mollified by this outcome and voiced their objections.

It would appear that Parliament has become a platform for name-calling, mudsling and assault. The sessions which are beamed live and broadcast on Channel 403 are nothing short of dramatic. Forget scripted reality television, this stuff is the real deal.

It has everything you could wish for: Action, comedy, drama, intrigue and violence.

The parliamentarians themselves are a stellar cast who are not short of theatrics. I wonder if it might be prudent to add an age restriction as from time to time expletives like “voetsak zinja” are blurted out for all and sundry to hear.

What is obvious and glaring is that there is clearly no love lost between the ANC and opposition party MPs.
It is clearly a case of David versus Goliath.

I am sure if many were to dispense with the civilities they would don boxing gloves and rough each other up after hours. A militant Lindiwe Zulu clearly demonstrated she was capable of flexing her muscles and throwing a punch or two.

Thursday’s session was arguably the most chaotic as it degenerated into an orgy of violence between parliamentarians and the South African Police. Unfortunately, we were not privy to this as the live feed was cut off.

The mayhem once again was attributed to the EFF, but was not instigated by the usual triad of suspects of Lloyd Shivambu, Julius Malema and Andile Mngxitama.

Instead it was the EFF parliamentarian Ngwanamaketle Mashabela who called the president “a thief and a criminal” and refused to retract her words after being chastened repeatedly to do so.

The police were then called to forcibly remove her and all bedlam broke loose.

The DA MPs who tried to block the police got caught up in the kerfuffle. At the time of writing this article, Mmusi Maimane, speaker of the DA, was at the Cape Town Police Station to lay charges of assault against members of his party.

EFF on the other hand are going to court to seek an interdict against police entering the chambers of Parliament to remove members. Images of police brutality clearly do not conjure images of democracy.

If anything, it is evocative of fascism and everything that is anti-democratic.

Furthermore, this Parliament does not inspire confidence in leadership which is seen to be bickering and battering each other at any opportune time.

Beyond the entertainment value I think its time we called for the return of robust parliamentary debate of yesteryear.

It is time to arrest the debacle and dissipation that has characterised the convening of Parliament.

Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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