In Parliament

Glass houses

30 January 2015

Heaven help us if the African National Congress one day loses a national election and is tossed on to the opposition benches. Being reduced to merely an opposition party has already happened to the ANC in the Western Cape province and in the city of Cape Town, where, no doubt inspired by the publicity achieved by the EFF with similar tactics, it last week provided the electorate with a taste of the tactics that it is likely to employ against any new government.
Last week’s events in the City of Cape Town leave one gob smacked that elected city councillors – who, if they are just ordinary councillors and don’t serve as sub-council chairpersons or whips, earn about R20 000 a month after tax – can behave in the manner they did. One councillor pulled a metro policeman’s watch off, another hit a policeman in the face. Another farted so strongly, there was a lapse in the endless heave as ringleaders of the councillors screamed: “Push, push, push.”
What happened was that the metropolitan council had met in its usual chamber to deal with various controversial matters – including the renaming of a street in honour of FW de Klerk, and the demolition of a number of council houses in Wynberg/Plumstead to make way for a massive extension of Cape Town’s MyCiti bus routes. When, after some debate –and two ANC members had spoken against the demolition proposal – the council speaker announced he was closing the debate and calling for a vote, the ANC objected, arguing that they had not been given sufficient speaking time and proceeded to drown out further proceedings by hammering on their desks. When it became clear that the council would not be able to complete its work – including the passing of its vital adjustments’ budget – the Speaker Dirk Smit, moved the meeting to a meeting room on the public concourse of the municipal building.
Somehow most of the DA caucus and the caucuses of the smaller parties managed to sneak into the new venue before the venue was closed off to ANC councillors – hence the metro police line protecting the governing party (and smaller parties) within. This measure, using the police to protect those inside and prevent invasion by ANC councillors was taken because Smit did not want a repeat of what happened last year in parliament – where riot police were called into the national assembly resulting in scuffles within the house. In November last year Ngwanamakwetle Reneiloe Mashabela, an Economic Freedom Fighters’ MP, was dragged out of the national assembly after she labelled President Jacob Zuma a thief and a criminal: “The president of the ANC is the greatest thief in the world, I am not going to withdraw. He is a criminal, everybody in South Africa knows that Zuma is a thief.” In the ensuing scuffle four Democratic Alliance MPs were injured. They have stated subsequently that they were trying to intervene. DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and his deputy, Mike Waters, were reported to have screamed at police to stay out of the chamber.)

No doubt there will be further investigation of who did what to whom on that day in parliament, but the fact that the police were brought right in to Parliament must be unacceptable. The council speaker’s strategy ensured that all the unseemly scuffles took place outside the council chamber. This was the second demonstration of this kind in less than a year in the city council. The now normally ANC-compliant Independent Newspapers reported that on Wednesday 26 February 2014 (a year ago) the city council was disrupted as ANC councillors threw their agendas on the floor – filling the front of the podium with mounds of paper - to protest against the draft budget being tabled. All the while, the ANC councillors had chanted and danced about in the chamber. It was a sad day for democracy and a bad day for political tolerance.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille charged that the ANC was trying to make the city ungovernable. Ironically, the ANC takes a dim view of similar tactics used by the EFF in Parliament. Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete said public order police had to be called in because opposition MPs were stubbornly defiant. “We could not sit here in this institution and forever allow disruptions and outrageous conduct of honourable members who have come here not to work, but to… push the boundaries [of civil behaviour], in the process rubbishing this institution of the people,” charged Mbete.

What’s that I hear you say about people living in glass houses?

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