When Julius Malema sets the tone
Zubeida Jaffer, publisher of The Journalist reflects on the drama at the State of the Nation address last week and argues that political parties are pursuing short term gains at the expense of long term progress, at the expense of citizens.
The hatred of two men threatens to tear South Africa apart. The standoff at parliament last week saw two former friends slug it out as enemies bringing one of the country’s most important institutions to a standstill.
President Zuma encouraged Julius Malema to behave in an atrocious way when he was a member of the ANC. The rude and biting behaviour has turned against him as his former comrade leads the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Millions of South Africans settled in front of their television screens on Thursday night to listen to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address. Before they could hear the speech, they witnessed the undignified spectacle of members of EFF ripping into President Zuma calling him a thief and a man who had broken his oath of office.
The tirade continued for more than an hour until the inevitable happened. The speaker Baleka Mbete ordered parliamentary officials to escort the members out of the house.
They in turn put up a fight. They were not going to leave unless they were physically forced to. And so South Africans had to witness an unedifying tussle that was beamed across the world. The details are on public record.
Countries succeed when they have well-functioning institutions. Those countries that fail almost always do when their institutions are weak.
Rules are the pillars of any institution. If members flout rules, the institution will collapse. Cope’s Willy Madisha was asked to leave the house and he followed the rules allowing the officials to escort him out. But Julius Malema and his team would have none of that. They defied this rule. They resisted and punched officials resulting on some injuries on both sides.
The DA too decided to flout long-standing agreements. They called for a minute of silence for the 94 mental patients who had through negligence tragically lost their lives – a perfectly legitimate request on the face of it. What the public did not know was that this was not parliamentary procedure. The normal procedure would have been to secure an agreement to do this before the time at the meeting of all the party whips. This would then have been conveyed to the speaker who would have incorporated this into the evening’s programme.
The ANC-led government called in the military to support the police at parliament and in so doing again broke the long-standing compact with its people to embrace demilitarization. It did not just flout a rule. It crushed the hope that South Africans can manage their political differences through negotiations.
By doing this, it responded to the belligerence of the EFF in a way that sets the tone for violent confrontation between EFF and ANC members. The whispers are growing louder.
At the same time, opposition parties allow Julius Malema and his team to set the tone for parliamentary engagement.
Like President Zuma a few years ago, they line up behind this behaviour. In the short-term it suits their campaign to weaken the ANC in the run-up to the 2019 elections. But in the long run, they too may be at the receiving end and then it will be too late to rescue parliament and set it on a dignified course.
The ANC is saddled with a president that many in his own party do not trust. Not one opposition party demonstrated leadership that indicated a way forward out of this quagmire. It was all about grandstanding and playing a game of politics.
None of them paused to consider the pain they were inflicting on the vast majority of the people who mostly could not bear watching the disintegration of their dreams unfold on their television screens. Many pressed the off button choosing instead to hold onto their hopes that sanity will magically float back.
But will it when no effort is made to temper the hatred between the two men who were once comrades?