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Barbs, knife twists and well wishes before Parliament goes into recess for local government elections


Marianne Merten has written on Parliament since 2016 for Daily Maverick. The intersection of governance, policy and politics unfolds at many levels, from tiny nuggets of information hidden in the voluminous stacks of papers tabled at the national legislature to the odd temper tantrum by a politician. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes baffling, even after 26 years as a hack, there are few dull days in the parliamentary corridors.

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula sent MPs on their electioneering way with well wishes for the campaign trail.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

“As we campaign let us please be mindful that we are still in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic. We have lost many loved ones, including members of our Parliament… May we have free and fair 2021 local government elections,” said National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.  

Electioneering rhetoric had been wielded like sharpened okapis from both sides of the House since the Constitutional Court ruled the municipal poll will not be postponed, and must be held by 1 November.

While the ANC called out the opposition for electioneering, some of its MPs were just as blunt – “Don’t forget to vote [for] the ANC on 1 November 2021!” came from the podium in the final minutes of the last sitting on the last day before elections recess from 10 September. But the DA and the EFF gave as good as they got.

In those verbal skirmishes even a “bloody racist” from the podium seemed okay – until DA Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone’s point of order on “self-confessed racist Helen Zille” was upheld. Sort of.

“Point of order noted… Madam Zille is not a member of Parliament and please will you mind the language. Thank you,” Mapisa-Nqakula told the ANC speaker.

“Mabena”, slang for someone who disappoints, was okay in the House, but “lies” was a definite no-no as EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi discovered when she interrupted to take issue with an ANC speaker for “attacking the EFF with the lies he’s spewing…”

“Honourable member, please. Lies is not used. That’s not part of the language which is acceptable in Parliament here,” the Speaker cut in.

“Two wrongs can’t make a right,” appealed Mapisa-Nqakula when ANC MP Hope Papo, who’s also Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza’s parliamentary counsellor, and Mkhaliphi had a verbal go at each other. At least the Speaker didn’t again refer to that “Do’s and Don’ts list” she has previously cited in rulings.

Chairing the House is a sphere of state removed from chairing-as-minister a meeting of generals who are well trained not to speak out of turn. The-less-said-the-better approach runs across the public service, dressed up in obsequious protocol kowtowing to the ministers.

MPs must call each other “Honourable”, or at least “Mr” or “Ms”.

Comparisons to animals are a definite no, including the young lions of the ANC youth league. Calling each other crooks and thieves is also a no, although the opposition regularly gets in an amasela (thieves) or two.

A favourite point of order from the ANC benches is to call for a substantive motion, including proof, when the opposition talks of governing party corruption, particularly in the wake of State Capture commission testimony. Claiming it’s a quote won’t wash.

But that leaves Parliament in the peculiar position of not allowing debate on what’s freely discussed in the public domain. Go figure for the people’s assembly often touted as the platform for national debate.

And then lawmakers set themselves no-go areas in their constitutional oversight responsibilities.

Usually, it’s officials who invoke the outdated sub judice to dodge questions by claiming no one could talk about something before the courts. But lately parliamentarians have invoked sub judice – most recently to sidestep the political pickle of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) reopening councillor candidate registration.

The ANC can now fix its lists across the 35 municipalities of South Africa’s 257 councils it had previously missed. The DA filed court papers.

The lawmakers said it was not for them to interpret the Constitutional Court order, according to a statement. But they “remain confident that the IEC is capable of delivering credible, free and fair local government elections that are central to safeguarding the sanctity of our democracy”.

But the proof is not in pretty words, but in the eating of the pudding. Or, in this case, the casting and counting of ballots. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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