The opening of parliament has become a worrying spectacle in a country that catapulted the world’s political icon, Nelson Mandela, onto the global stage, two decades ago. Alas, the State of the Nation address (Sona) is no longer worth watching.
The militarisation of the event was clearly President Jacob Zuma’s show of strength against his gadfly Julius Malema and his lieutenants, who arrived intent on sowing mayhem to prevent it from happening.
As someone who loves hopping across the globe to China and Russia, Zuma wasn’t going to allow the yapping Malema to humiliate him once again, but armed with counter-intelligence, Malema came prepared to hurl endless insults at the speaker and the president.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ theatrics have become boring and Malema’s fight with the president is no longer political. It is personal and tedious. While the Democratic Alliance made an excellent point of order calling for a moment of silence for the 94 deaths of the Esidimeni mentally ill patients, they undermined their own very powerful point by imitating Malema and walking out of parliament.
The politicians were fully aware that the speaker had had the soldiers and the police deployed in vast numbers yet they decided to attend Sona, dressed to the nines, like everybody else. A stronger principled stance would have been to boycott Sona instead of imitating the EFF.
The public is not interested in watching Sona to listen to Malema and his habitual antics. Nor did the DA’s self-righteousness, except for the request for a moment’s silence, inspire confidence. Whatever Zuma’s transgressions, he was elected democratically by the ANC to be the president of the country. Many DA-inspired votes of no confidence have failed to take him down.
Until such time as his term of office expires or his party gets rid of him, we are duty-bound to respect parliament and the dignity of the office of the president. As I watched the spectacle I was reminded of Winston Churchill who said: “When I’m in office I always keep MPs talking. If they stopped they might start thinking.”
The recurrent mayhem in parliament is unacceptable. Our global image is tarnished by what has come to be expected every year since the EFF became an opposition party – a circus of epic proportions.
Given all the accusations and criminal charges against the president, that he is still head of state is a comment on the weakness of the opposition to mobilise the masses to unseat him democratically.
It doesn’t help to shout at him across the aisles – that is not how we will get rid of Zuma. The man is simply indefatigable. For as long as he has the support of his party, as divided as it is, the opposition will not succeed in deposing him.
Their job is to campaign in ANC strongholds and convince the rural masses that they are capable of becoming the alternative government.
Otherwise they prove Bertrand Russell’s point: “Democracy has at least one merit, namely that a member of parliament cannot be stupider than his constituents, for the more stupid he is, the more stupid they were to elect him.”