Assembly again at Brakpan High

Jeremy Gordin on latest Phala Phala performance in our de-housed parliament

The mainstream media keep trumpeting (ad nauseam) that the big deal about Morocco’s football team making it to the semi-finals of the FIFA soccer World Cup in Qatar on Tuesday evening is that it thereby became the first “African” and “Arab” team to do so, and almost [i] became the first “African” and “Arab” team to reach the final.

A hearty mazel tov to all concerned – though might I point out that I am the first “African” and “Jew” to have written articles without split infinitives on Politicsweb [ii]. ... My point is that I don’t quite grasp how the Moroccan team being African and/or Arab relates to football prowess, just as I don’t follow what my achievement has to do with being African and/or Jewish.

Anyway, another entity that has been doing some grandiloquent trumpeting is the Office of the ANC Chief Whip. The whip’s name is Pemmy Castelina Pamela Majodina and I find it interesting that she issued a statement in English – because during her “address” to the National Assembly (NA) on Tuesday, she resolutely refused to say a word in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiSuthu, Tshivenda, or, for that matter, Arabic, Berber, or Hebrew.

It was/is of course Majodina’s right to address the NA in any one of the country’s official languages. Moreover, that I do not understand sufficient isiXhosa to have followed what she was opining (with a great deal of feeling) is obviously my failing. Anyway, it didn’t matter much because I knew what she was going to say. That is one of the features of delivering the party line: everyone knows what you’re going to say before you say it.

Still, I think it’s courteous to share with as many people as possible what you have to say, especially if you think it’s important. PR 101, sussie. Even Pieter Groenewald, Freedom Front Plus leader, kicks off his speeches in English before crossing to die taal. But then he’s a courteous person.

Back to the statement. “The ANC Parliamentary Caucus welcomes the outcome of the vote in the NA on the report of the Independent Panel (IP) established to conduct a preliminary enquiry in terms of Section 89 of the Constitution.

“The NA has voted overwhelmingly against [the recommendation], with 214 MPs against, two abstentions, and 148 in support of the recommendation of the IP [that the NA] appoint an ad hoc committee to commence a section 89 impeachment inquiry based on the allegations against President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa.

“We are pleased that the NA has refused to yield to the spurious and mischievous demands of some opposition parties who wished to achieve their stated political objective to unseat the Head of State and the ANC-led government through the back door.”

Why the “demands” – part of a legitimately scheduled vote – were spurious and mischievous, I’m not certain. Nor do I understand what exactly the back door had to do with anything.

Though I ought to note that tourism minister and ANC presidential hopeful Lindiwe Sisulu said afterwards that she’d been unable to vote: because she had to take an urgent call (or something – maybe the doggie ate her homework?), she was “locked out” of the hall. Well, why not use that back door?

In other words, the vote was, as prophesied by many, the usual travesty. No one on the ANC side – we’ll come to the exceptions in a minute – no one was apparently interested in finding out whether Mr Clean might have committed some naughties and/or told some porkies.

You’d have thought some folk might have been just a teensy bit curious. After all, here you have a fellow who – notwithstanding his various dissimilarities to Hercules – had solemnly promised to clean the Augean stables, and yet prima facie had been sneaking back in at night and messing them up. That’s weird sh-t, as we hippies used to say.

Well, if some people were curious, ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe reminded them that curiosity killed the cat (though he didn’t mention the second part of the saying, “but satisfaction brought it back”). Apparently, Mantashe told the ANC caucus – or so we are told, and he hasn’t denied it – to vote “No” – or to say “Cheers, Big Ears”.

And so, given that the ANC has a majority in the NA, there will not be a parliamentary ad hoc committee formed to consider whether Cyril Ramaphosa might have some questions to answer about his Gommagomma at Phala Phala [iii].

Now then, my last paragraph is about as newsworthy as telling you that “a dog bit a man”. You doubtless know all this by now; and in any case you knew what would happen before it did. So, we need not spend any more time on the so-called debate. Most folk stood up and regurgitated as instructed, with a greater or lesser degree of comprehensibility.

Justice minister Ronald Lamola was about the only person from the ANC who might have made a modicum of sense. What he seemed to be saying is that the Independent Panel appointed reached its conclusions based on a “dangerously” low threshold of evidence.

The reason I’m not 100% sure what he was saying was that – perhaps because Lamola is also said to be an ANC presidential or deputy-presidential hopeful – he got somewhat tangled up (linguistically), and he has also unfortunately decided to adopt the “ANC shout”. This is based on the view that people will understand you better, if you just shout loudly enough.

DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube tried sweet reasonableness, attempting to explain that accepting the IP recommendation did not mean that the NA would adjudge whether Ramaphosa was guilty or not.

Inter alia she said: “This vote is about accountability. It is a vote to complete a process we collectively embarked on; showcasing that it does not matter whether you are a president or an ordinary citizen, the laws of this country apply to us all impartially. It is a vote to afford the President an opportunity to have the truth uncovered. An opportunity an innocent person should grab with both hands.”

Ja-nee, but there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

The EFF’s Julius Malema – who has, thankfully, dropped the EFF shout, at least sometimes – also began giving a to-the-point speech. Or so I thought. But then he seemed to experience some sort of blow-out in his circuitry – and began banging on that Ramaphosa’s actions were obviously the fault of “Rupert” (Johann, presumably), “Oppenheimer” (Nicholas or Harry, or perhaps all of them), and white monopoly capital.

Malema reminds me of the “out” pipe of my shower, the drain through which the waste water exits. All is going well, or so one thinks, one is having a lovely hot shower, and then suddenly there’s a blockage somewhere in the pipe – and the soapy water starts backing up around your feet. A shot of drain cleaner?

Then were those ANC members who broke party discipline and said “yes” to the adoption of the IP’s report.

Sisulu, as we know, ducked – and Zweli Mkhize, the smart fellow that he is, was nowhere to be found. Mosebenzi Zwane, Supra Mahumapelo, and Mervyn Dirks all voted Yes. Well, we pretty much know why; and all have, methinks, min dae in the party.

It was only Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who had the er, gumption, to stand up proudly and say with aplomb, “As a disciplined member of the ANC, I vote yes”. A proverbial and wonderful cat among the pigeons moment. Well, I guess she won’t be in the next cabinet; though, knowing Ramaphosa, she might well be [iv].

There were also two abstentions – Minister of Public Works and GOOD party chief Patricia “Auntie Pat” de Lille and her sidekick Brett Herron, known affectionately at The Herring. Why Auntie Pat abstained is not clear – given that she’s got a first-class seat on the gravy train.

But what struck me most about the whole shindig was this. Parliament, as we know, was burnt down – so the NA meets in the Cape Town city hall, with the Speaker up on the stage, where she looks and behaves like a deeply unpopular school principal. All the MPs are seated down below, like unruly kids at assembly.

Doubtless this is why the whole affair reminded me of a standard seven (form two) assembly at Brakpan High. (I mean no offence to Brakpan High, by the way; it’s just the only place at which I have attended a std. 7 assembly.) Everyone was being naughty, as std. 7 pupils are – until they caught the eye of the principal.

It's remarkable that about 60 percent of the MPs were unable to say simply “Yes” or “No”. They had to shout or say something silly or cheeky; they just couldn’t help it; and this was even though they’d been asked by the principal not to be silly.

Yup, there they all were – and I’m including, I’m sorry to say, the DA ones as well – our public representatives all dressed up, like std. 7s in their newly-pressed and laundered uniforms – as though they were at the last assembly for the term (which it was) – and as though what was ostensibly happening at the assembly didn’t seem to matter all that much.

Does this bunch of jokers – even the decent ones among them (and there might be four or five) – do they really believe they’re earning an honest buck? That what they’re purportedly doing makes any difference? That they can make any difference given the way things are? Do they really trust in this big charade, this cute game, all the while so-called democracy gushes down the street like water from one of Johannesburg’s burst pipes?

Remember Frederik van Zyl Slabbert? He was the leader of the Progressive Federal Party (PFP, which fared well in the 1981 elections, increasing its representation in the House of Assembly from 17 to 26 seats. But in 1986, Slabbert resigned from his position as leader of the opposition because he felt that Parliament was becoming an irrelevant institution in the context of the country’s political problems.

Well, today, 36 years later, I feel as though I’m beginning to understand Frederik van Zyl Slabbert for the first time – even though the ghost of Helen Suzman, whom I got to know a little during her final years, is perched on my shoulder saying, “Don’t be a silly-billy”.

Have a Heppy Heppy, as they say in the Cape.


[i] When I was a little[er] boy, my mother used to say to me, “a miss is as good as a mile”.

[ii] If anyone thinks he or she can refute my claim, s/he may do so through the usual channels, including the two ombuds of the Press Council.

[iii] I thank my learned friend Andrew Donaldson for this felicitous description.

[iv] Another ANC member, one Thandi or Tandi Mahambehlala, seemed confused about the process and, when asked to vote, repeated “party line,” “party line,” and then said yes. Later, she tried to change her vote to no – or rather the Speaker did – but didn’t get away with it. I see that Mahambehlala has been Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism since 2021; maybe Sisulu had been messing with her head during lunch – or something.