On Valentine’s Day, the party that wears red all year offered South Africans a gift-wrapped quagmire: the violence of SONA2017 was the new normal. The Fighters are not going to entertain President Jacob Zuma’s presence in Parliament. And they want to compel the National Assembly to finally do something about last year’s Constitutional Court ruling that found Zuma to be in breach of his oath of office. Which means they’re lawyering up. And Zuma will face an old war on a new front. By RICHARD POPLAK.
So here we were. Again. A post-SONA confab hosted by the party that has transformed the Opening of Parliament into a regularly scheduled brothel brawl. The conference room at the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Braamfontein HQ was a year sadder, a year more haggard; if Johann Rupert is funding the party, as the EFF’s enemies claim, he either needs to step up his beneficence, or he needs to send over an interior decorator. Somewhere under a seat, a piece of ancient polony lurked. I dated its vintage back to the time when people got excited over gatherings like these.
Indeed, it was not a full press conference room, which perhaps suggests that fatigue is settling in. Two years ago, this room was jammed; it was again last year. Either journalism is dying, or interest in the EFF is waning. Or both. Regardless, it doesn’t bode well for the future of either institution. Shortly before convening this desultory after-party, the EFF’s Members of Parliament were handed a suspension from the Big House for five days. Another suspension after another brawl.
But what was there to say this time?
What pithy portmanteau would be coined?
Whose mashed testicles would be offered as proof of government reproductive indifference?
National Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi kicked off the show: “I greet you all in the name of economic freedom in our lifetime,” he said. “And I greet you all in the name of Love.”
Oh, right – Valentine’s Day, in the country where love goes to die.
Then entered the Commander-in-Chief and his back-up band. He wasted no time.
“We are not going to be debating Zuma’s speech,” growled the incredible shrinking CiC, “because it is not worth our time.”
He promised two forms of protest against Zuma’s “occupation of the highest office”.
“Many people have argued that Zuma was voted in by a majority. We are on record as accepting the election of the president by Parliament,” said Malema. “But even if you get the majority, you are still subjected to the Constitution. Fail to do that, and you’re turning this country into a mob. The will of the mob. And that is unacceptable in a constitutional democracy.”
He leaned forward menacingly, and reminded us that a president had to do two basic things in order to earn his/her presidency. “Not matric – Zuma has proved that. Not even a simple junior degree. But faithfulness to the Republic. And you must obey the Constitution.”
The CiC then implied that the press had rolled over and passively accepted Zuma’s misconduct with regard to constitutional matters, a statement I’d argue is crack-addled – but hey, if you’re setting yourself up as the hero, you need to find yourself a patsy. And these days, the press fills that role nicely.
“We are a country constituted of cowards who have accepted that a person who has breached the oath of office, to allow him to occupy that office,” spat the CiC, pointing right at us.
With his diatribe against majoritarianism and a candy-assed press corps complete, it now came down to matters protocol. “The EFF does not agree to have broken the rules. We get suspended, okay – but what happens to a person who breaks the Constitution?”
We were now doing rhetorical donuts on the moral relativist tarmac. But Malema appeared to be coming to his point.
“So, the strategy now is to take [Speaker of the House] Baleka Mbete to court to compel Parliament to discipline Jacob Zuma. The Constitutional Court can’t say this one behaved in an unconstitutional manner and it ends there. We want Parliament compelled by the court to impeach Zuma, or for him to be disciplined.”
As their official statement put it:
“We have taken a decision to approach the court to force Parliament to either institute disciplinary or impeachment proceedings against Zuma. The Constitutional Court judgment must serve as a prima-facie evidence to the effect that Zuma should not be holding public office. Disciplinary or impeachment proceedings must be constituted where Zuma will have to answer in terms of Section 89 of the Constitution which reads that;
“The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of:¬
a. a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;”
So here was the reason we were gathered in the Braamfontein lair: the EFF was going to Big Game Hunt in the biggest hunting ground in the land.
As far as ideas go, it wasn’t a dumb one.
The CiC rounded off the main part of the proceedings by congratulating members of the EFF for their bravery in the face of heavy militarisation. “All of them were inspired by the ‘fear fokol’ spirit,” he said. “They were so brave.”
Nothing gets the crowds riled up like a legal proceeding, am I right? Q: But wasn’t all of this getting a little tired? And weren’t the EFF concerned that the fatigue would hurt the party at the ballot box?
“You will know better than me that the EFF was the only one that increased in last year’s [local] elections,” said Malema, failing to mention that in acquiring about 8% of the popular vote, the party didn’t achieve the 12% they were gunning for. “We increased, the DA declined, and the ANC declined. If you want to talk strict electoral politics, we increased by 1.2-million votes [over the 2014 national elections]. The strategy you say is tired gave us 1.2-million votes in 2016. This is not emotion. It’s science.
“Hey, the ANC is going to lose Gauteng,” promised Malema. “And in 2019, when it comes to coalition politics, we will remember these beatings. [Gauteng provincial chairperson] Paul Mashatile must know that those videos of SONA, they will be played again for him to hear. Gauteng is gone. They must know that.”
Which brought us to my personal favourite part of these ritualised press conferences: Gossip Hour.
Malema rubbished the latest ANC fetish: getting rid of our constitutional democracy and replacing it with a parliamentary democracy. “That will not work here,” said the CiC. “This is a Gupta sponsored view.”
He claimed that the ANC presidency’s front-runner, Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, might as well be a member of the Gupta family; he insisted, “Baleka Mbete is the biggest loser of them all! She’s gone. Finished.” He warned us that David “Didi” Mabuza, premier of Mpumalanga and presidential aspirant, has a considerable war chest. “Didi’s people, they don’t play. He will emerge. The ANC is available to the highest bidder.”
Were we in a constitutional crisis? “No, not yet, because the judiciary is still holding. But I’ll tell you a fact: Zuma is trying hard to corrupt the judiciary. The ANC is trying everything to infiltrate the Bench.”
Malema insisted that, Yes, Parliament MUST dissolve. “We must go to an early election. Parliament has failed to comply with the Constitution.”
More of the same, in other words. But the point of the disorder, if you will, was the same as it ever was: get rid of Jacob Zuma. He’s proved a remarkably persistent, if unwanted, Valentine. For love or money, we can’t get rid of him. Perhaps this new gambit will bring better luck. DM
Photo: Julius Malema (C), leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, reacts after being thrown out of Parliament during the State Of The Nation Address (SONA) by President Zuma in Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa 09 February 2017. EPA/NIC BOTHMA