The EFF is currently mixing threats – we’ll go naked; we’ll disrupt SONA – with interesting parliamentary reform proposals. At the same time, the party appears to be fighting fires on numerous fronts, and is missing a few key figures in its parliamentary caucus at the moment. In the year to come, can the party sustain the momentum that got them into Parliament in the first place? By REBECCA DAVIS.
The issue of parliamentary dress looks set to become a tension point as the year kicks off in the National Assembly. Though the ANC claims that attempts to restrict the range of appropriate attire in Parliament stem purely from concerns for the “entire decorum of the House” – to quote rules subcommittee chair Richard Mdakane – it’s clear that the real issue is something less lofty: to cut the Economic Freedom Fighters down to size in their parliamentary displays.
In some circles the choice of red overalls for the Fighters has been criticized as meaningless gimmickry, but it has also been an instantaneous visual marker of difference between that party and its political rivals. Now, it appears, the ANC in Parliament has had enough.
In the rules subcommittee meeting held at Parliament on Wednesday, the ANC MPs present initially framed the proposed dress code reforms as simply a means of bringing the South African Parliament in line with parliaments across the world. While all MPs present seemed to be in agreement that items like jeans or takkies were unacceptable attire in the House, it fell to the IFP’s Narend Singh to broach “the elephant in the room”: whether the EFF would be able to wear their trademark overalls and hard hats.
The ANC’s Doris Dlakude advanced a range of reasons why the EFF should not be able to do so: starting with the fact that such attire had never been acceptable in previous parliaments, moving to the hypocrisy of the EFF MPs taking off their overalls when they got back to their offices, and ending with the slightly absurd point that “[w]e cannot have those hats in the House because they are dangerous! They are weapons!”
It was left to the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu to fight his party’s corner. “This is not just an issue of dress codes,” he said. “It’s an issue of saying ordinary people, the working class, must know that Parliament is their platform too”.
But in response, there were repeated references to the ANC’s large parliamentary majority, giving them the muscle to make the necessary dress code amendments without the EFF’s buy-in. The EFF was stranded without support from the other opposition MPs present, though COPE’s Deirdre Carter sounded a note of concern about the “discriminatory” potential of prescribing what should be “formal” dress.
Shivambu was left impotently threatening ANC chair Mdakane with future humiliation, and announcing that the EFF would seek help from the courts to be able to continue wearing their overalls.
One of the most cutting putdowns was delivered by the ANC’s Nyami Booi, who sharply criticised the notion that the EFF has a mandate from the working class. “My mother was also a domestic worker and she doesn’t agree with your opinion,” Booi told Shivambu.
A subsequent proposal put forward by the EFF aimed at voting reform in the House also looked likely to be shut down without much fanfare.
The party wants to see the potential for secret votes in the House on contentious matters, to allow for MPs to disagree with the party line without facing subsequent victimisation for voting against it.
In its proposal document, the EFF stated: “The Parliament of SA recurrently subjects key decisions it has to take to rigorous debates and discussions, and these are meaningless if all decisions are subjected to an open vote because even those who were persuaded by an argument from different political parties are still subjected to the political party line. This cannot be correct and should be remedied though an introduction of a secret ballot.”
This is not the first time the issue of the secret ballot has been raised. Last November, the EFF wanted a secret vote on the disciplinary report on its MPs by Parliament’s powers and privileges committee. On that occasion, Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli ruled that the only instances in which a secret ballot could be taken was when there was more than one candidate nominated for the position of President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker.
In December last year, Agang filed papers in the Constitutional Court requesting a motion of no confidence in President Zuma to be voted on by secret ballot.
On Tuesday, however, there again appeared to be little support for the EFF on the matter among opposition parties. Shivambu stressed that a secret ballot would only be used in certain situations where there was 15% support for such a vote in the House, but failed to win favour – even though COPE’s Carter conceded that there were situations of intimidation when it came down to vote, including MPs allegedly pressing other’s voting buttons.
The IFP’s Singh cited a situation on the Hibiscus Coast where a secret ballot for mayor and other officials resulted in the vote being taken over 25 times. “It goes against the grain of party discipline,” he said.
The ANC’s Booi, meanwhile, said that some “illiterate” MPs needed to be “guided” by their party, and others struggled with their personal “morals”. He cited the case of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, introduced in 1996, where the ANC required MPs to vote in favour of the law in spite of objections.
Not allowing a secret ballot turns Parliament into “a mockery of a talkshow”, complained Shivambu, if the rigorous debates on issues did not allow for the persuasion of other MPs. Mdakane told him rather patronisingly that he had presented the issue “nicely”.
The EFF’s proposal on voting reform will inevitably attract less attention than the other lurid news items surrounding the party at the moment.
Most shocking has been the revelation that the party’s North West secretary Papiki Babuile is running operations from prison after being jailed for 12 years for the murder of an ANC regional secretary, David Chika. The Citizen reported that Babuile was continuing to receive a generous salary while in prison, though the party said it would replace him if his murder appeal failed.
Earlier this week the party took the unusual step of putting out a 1,500-word statement aimed at challenging what it called “sustained media attacks”. These included an allegation that EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi is accused of rape, which the party says was instigated by “Rapists and Sodomists from failed political organisations”.
The statement did confirm, however, that Ndlozi and another leading EFF figure, Magdalena Moonsamy, are currently out of action: Ndlozi because he is on PhD study leave, and Moonsamy because she is undertaking her law articles and has consequently resigned from Parliament.
The other allegation the party has taken steps to confront is that a Golf GTI was bought with EFF money but registered to a Malema family company, as reported by City Press. The EFF claims that the traffic department told the party that it could not register the car “as a political organisation”, a claim since disputed by City Press.
Undoubtedly the most reputation-damaging claim made about the EFF in recent weeks, however, has been that leader Malema is in talks to re-join the ANC. EFF MP Mpho Ramakatsa initially confirmed the rumours to the Citizen, though it is likely that Ramakatsa has an axe to grind with party leadership after failing to win the position he sought in the December congress. Ramakatsa also claimed that Moonsamy’s departure from the parliamentary caucus was due to a fall-out with Malema – a notion also rubbished by the party.
Taken altogether, it’s been a pretty rocky start to the year for the EFF, particularly given that the ANC appears to have returned to parliamentary business with a renewed resolve to show the Fighters who’s boss. Seeing that the ANC can win any parliamentary battle it wants to by dint of sheer voting size, don’t rule out a lot more disruption as the EFF lobbies to make its voice heard as loudly as it was last year. DM
Photo by Greg Nicolson.
- ANC proposes ban of overalls in Parliament, in City Press