NEWS & ANALYSIS

Spuriouser and spuriouser

Andrew Donaldson writes on the red-shirt disruption of Cyril's SONA

A FAMOUS GROUSE

SPURIOUSER and spuriouser … for a while, in the first half-hour of chaos in the National Assembly, it seemed that the upstarts had a new cri de cœur for their upheaval programme and every attempt at reining in this careening shambles would be countered by a charge from the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi that the points of order raised by the redshirts were not spurious

Only he pronounced it “speary arse”, which is unfortunate, and I will leave it there. But, as a description of the evening’s mess, “spurious” was as apt a term as any. Ndlozi, now tasked with the fighters’ political education, did thrash away at it like a child with a new toy and the word somehow stuck — and even rang true.

There was much about the night that was specious, false, fantastical and downright dishonest. As the prelude to Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address, if I may, farced on (the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip put it best: verbing really does weird language), it seemed to the expats at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) that a great miasma of unreality had descended over the parliamentary precinct.

The EFF made it clear from the outset they were going to hijack proceedings. In the days before Sona20, they ramped up threats to disrupt the president’s speech if he did not sack Pravin Gordhan, the public enterprises minister. 

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As the party’s secretary-general, Marshall Dlamini, told the Mail & Guardian: “We will come to the House and do our work by demanding the president fire Pravin Gordhan because he is incompetent in running state-owned companies. So what is the point of keeping him? He has got no idea what he is doing. If he [Ramaphosa] was to take South Africans seriously, he must release him.”

The response from the House was, well … limp seems too vigorous a term. In a joint statement, speaker Thandi Modise and National Council of Provinces chair Amos Masondo bleated: “Open threats to disrupt the work of Parliament, including the propagation of conspiracy theories, are not in the interests of the public. They serve only as attempts to distract Parliament from its work.”

Which obviously put the EFF in their place. Not. As proceedings began, up jumped Julius Malema. “Honourable Speaker,” he declared, “we have a murderer in the House.” 

Was it Ramaphosa, previously fingered by Malema as the alleged mastermind of the Marakana massacre? Was it former president Thabo Mbeki, whose government’s Aids policies were directly responsible for more than 300 000 avoidable Aids deaths, according to a Harvard study? 

Not this time. Thanks to comments by former president FW de Klerk in a recent SABC TV interview to mark the 30th anniversary of the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements, the EFF now had a second spanner to toss into the works, and they set about the tossing with gusto. 

De Klerk, Malema said, was “an unrepentant apologist of apartheid” and “the commander of Vlakplaas” who had denied that apartheid was a crime against humanity. “We ask that he leave this parliament because he has blood on his hands. He does not belong here.”

The interview is worth revisiting. De Klerk made the point throughout that apartheid was wrong and morally indefensible, and that to have continued with its policies would have resulted in disaster. “I have apologised for it so many times,” he told the SABC’s Manelisi Dubase, “and [yet] it has become a fallacy that I haven’t apologised for apartheid.”

That fallacy was not going anywhere in a hurry. Here’s the section, at the end of the interview, that the EFF have latched on to:

“As we conclude,” Dubase said, “can we agree today with what the United Nation said about apartheid, that it was a crime against humanity, and it was evil?”

“I don’t fully agree with that,” De Klerk replied. “I’m not justifying apartheid in anyway whatsoever—”

“Why can’t you agree with that? It brought havoc to millions of South Africans.”

“It did,” De Klerk said. “And I apologised for that. I profusely apologised for that. But there’s a difference between calling something a crime, like genocide is a crime. Apartheid cannot be, that’s why I’m saying this, it cannot be, for instance, genocide. There never was genocide under apartheid.”

“But there was mass killing—”

“Many people died, yes—”

“—and mass imprisonment of people.”

“But,” De Klerk continued, “more people died because of black on black violence than because of apartheid—”

“But the apartheid system was also involved in the black on black violence,” Dubase said.

“Absolutely, absolutely, and I have apologised for that.”

Whatever De Klerk’s crimes may be, it is interesting that he should be labelled a mass murderer “who has got blood on his hands” by a man who continues to incite his supporters to rise up against the country’s white minority. Only last month, Malema told a rally in the North West that black South Africans are cowards and self-haters for not attacking whites and who instead vent their frustrations and anger on black foreigners in acts of xenophobic violence.

The farce in the House dragged on. When Jacob “Boy” Mambolo rose in defence of parliamentary procedure, he was mocked by EFF members for his outfit: a white tuxedo jacket with black lapels and dicky bowtie. “On a point of order,” Ndlozi crowed, “this is not Our Perfect Wedding!” 

Stung by this withering reference to the reality TV show, Mambolo challenged Ndlozi and his colleagues to settle the matter elsewhere. “Come,” he said, “let’s go and engage outside! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go…” Malema was on his feet once more, urging the speaker to take action against Mambolo “so that we we should have peace in this House”. As he put it, “Vowelence was threatened!”

Mambolo is not someone I’d want to meet on a well-lit boulevard, never mind a darkened corner outside Parliament. No apparent stranger to “vowelence”, he was one of three men who were arrested in connection with an incident in Limpopo in which “community members” went on the rampage and torched a shack last month. 

The Citizen reported that Mambolo appeared in the Seshego Magistrate’s Court along with another ANC MP, Motladi Setsibi, and an EFF member, Jossey Buthane. All three were charged with malicious damage to property and theft and released on bail of R500 each. 

Peace did come to the House — but only after Modise temporarily suspended proceedings. The parliamentary channel cut to a studio somewhere in the building where Valerie Dambuza, who is apparently parliament’s public education practitioner, wittered on about the EFF protesting because De Klerk had said that “there was nothing wrong with the apartheid system”. Speary arse? You bet.

Once proceedings resumed, and the EFF had trooped out of the chamber, the DA’s interim leader, John Steenhuisen, called for Malema and the redshirts to face sanctions. “I would submit,” he said, “the behaviour that we’ve witnessed, including the hurling of water bottles at female members at the back of the House, is conduct constituting contempt and that the members involved must be referred to the Powers Privileges and Immunities Committee of this House.”

Steenhuisen was followed by ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina. “We have to amend these rules further,” she said. “We cannot allow people to cause disorder for an hour. This is rather too much. These member must be summoned to the powers and privileges [committee] and account for what they have done.”

This was the last great shock of the evening. Not the fact that the ruling party was actually agreeing with something Steenhuisen had said, but rather Majodina’s outfit, which looked … as if a furniture showroom in Dubai had mated with the decor at a Moyo restaurant and she was wearing the love child. 

It could not be unseen and, honestly, somewhere out there, there are couturiers laughing all the way to their banks, and not laughing in a nice way. Steenhuisen has a valid point when he suggests that parliament should do away with the pomp and red carpet nonsense surrounding state of the nation addresses. 

“I’ve always maintained that Sona should be an ordinary working day in Parliament,” he told journalists on Wednesday. “Given the current economic circumstances we find ourselves in, I think it is grotesque that people spent this amount of money in terms of the expense going into a day like this.”

On top of which there’s always a possibility that, stripped of the banana republic pageantry, there won’t be so much speary arsed behaviour from the redshirts. But it is a very slim possibility.

The fun was all over once Ramaphosa’s lengthy and rather dreary address got underway. He did mention once again that fabled super-city he banged on about last year. The dream of high speed trains, gleaming spires, flying cars, young people with jobs and wires in their ears has not died, it seems, and it was going to rise up from the veld somewhere near Lanseria airport in the next decade or so.

 Other than that, it was really was all pie in the sky and nothing to get too excited about.

Meanwhile, we look forward to finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech later this month. Apparently he has a cunning plan to use dagga to do away with the country’s revenue shortfall. To this end, he has been tweeting pictures of the cannabis plant growing on his Mpumalanga farm, sharing academic papers on marijuana’s benefits, and even posting a video of the reggae artist Peter Tosh’s hit, Legalize It.

This week, The Times of London reported that Mboweni invited his 500 000 Twitter followers to debate the merits of a law change on dagga. Reacting to their verdict, he tweeted: “On this one, the majority says: LEGALIZE IT!! I will put the proposal to legalize it at the Cabinet Lekgotla …The People have demanded it.”

This, apparently, was one of more than a dozen pro-dagga tweets since the start of the year. Mboweni has estimated that the marijuana industry could inject more than R5.5-billion into  the budget. This is nowhere near the size of the government’s current debt but, as the newspaper pointed out, it is still “a useful sum”. 

The challenge, though, is how to keep government out of the dagga business.