Parliament will fall

Andrew Donaldson suggests Cape Town is likely to be stripped of its status as legislative capital


LIKE the phoenix, a sobering thought rises from the ashes of the razed parliamentary building: Cape Town may well be stripped of its status as the country’s legislative capital. That stuff is now done.

Parliament will of course technically reopen for business next month with Cyril Ramaphosa delivering his state of the nation address from the City Hall. This, however, is a stop-gap measure, a temporary arrangement with the city. 

Future SONAs will in all likelihood now take place on the outskirts of Johannesburg, perhaps in the dreary Gallagher Estate conference centre or the dusty FNB Stadium — venues ideally suited to the delusional, self-aggrandising character of these long-winded exercises. 

The reality is that Parliament’s restoration is going to cost a packet. One current estimate puts the price tag at a billion rand, but this will almost certainly rise astronomically once the tender processes get underway. But will such repairs ever take place? 

Given the vogue of eschewing historically tainted relics of a benighted past, it is quite probable there will be demands for something fresh, different and elsewhere, and this clamour will be demonstratively loud. A whole new structure, in other words, perhaps in a “modern” Limpopo-Soviet vernacular, in a part of the country where the will of the people has prevailed in a way that it has not in the Western Cape.

Calls for relocation came almost as soon as firefighters began battling the blaze that gutted the National Assembly chamber. They were central to the unseemly displays of celebration from the usual suspects that erupted on social media.

Leading this moronic fanning of the flames was Accused Number One’s daughter, Duduzile Ivanka Lady Haw-Haw Soapbox Zuma-Sambudla. She implied the fire may have been set by opponents of radical economic transformation. It was too much of a coincidence, she tweeted, that it happened just before the African Transformation Movement’s planned motion of no confidence in Squirrel. In others words, Parliament did this to itself.

Then, in that inane typing style of hers, the Rose of Nkandla made the case for relocation: “This Is A Sign To Move Parliament To PTA.Why Must Our Parliament Be In A Province Where The Settlers Arrived&Started Our Problems?Those Statues Must Also Fall.” Among many others, these sentiments were echoed by EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi  and the disgraced public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Though dismaying, none of this surprises. 

The same could be said of the lapses in security inside the building at the time the alleged arsonist, 49-year-old indigent Zandile Mafe, was said to have torched the place. On Friday, News24 reported that Mafe was inside the building for almost 30 hours, setting off dozens of alarms as he wandered about its corridors. It’s claimed he started his fire, after first making a pile of boxes and old newspapers, about 26 hours after breaking into the place late on New Year’s Eve. 

During this time, two police officers were on duty in a nearby control room. They failed to pick up any of this activity. One was asleep while the other was wearing headphones.

This is according to a senior police officer who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity. The officer had direct knowledge of the investigation and had viewed viewed the extensive CCTV footage of activities inside the building. He or she confirmed that Mafe was seen in the footage making several telephone calls. 

A separate source, meanwhile, claimed that, while in the building, Mafe used his mobile to call the police and inform them of his intention to start the fire if they did not free from prison Janusz Waluś, the gunman convicted of murdering SACP leader Chris Hani in 1993.

Mafe also allegedly stole various personal items from a number of offices in the building. These he placed in bags which he lowered from a window with a makeshift rope fashioned from strips of curtain. 

He was arrested shortly after 6am on January 2, and found to be in possession of these stolen goods. He’d made no attempt to escape, it’s claimed: CCTV footage is believed to reveal that Mafe was “leaning with the upper half of his body” out of a window, calling out to police who apparently ignored him. 

It was only once detectives arrived on the scene that he was arrested. News24 quoted their principal source as saying: 

“He wasn’t found in possession of explosive devices; we haven't confirmed yet but it looked like fuel. He even took [detectives] to the place where he bought the fuel. This guy waited to be caught. He could have run away. He refused to. If you watch that footage, you will be shocked. He was literally begging them to take him. It’s an embarrassment for police. It’s a mind f**k. When you watch the footage, I tell you, you will be shocked.”

And from one dispiriting mind f**k to the next. A briefing to MPs on the ongoing investigation into the fire was abruptly cancelled at the last minute on Friday. Again, this wasn’t altogether surprising when you consider who was scheduled to brief the joint standing committee on the financial management of parliament: the police minister, Cheek Bile; the public works minister, Patricia de Lille: and National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

All three were unavailable, according to Siviwe Gwarube, the deputy chief whip of the DA. “This is unacceptable and a complete disregard for Parliament’s oversight role,” Gwarube said in a statement. “For too long Parliament has been ignored by the Executive and often as an optional accountability mechanism. That can no longer be allowed to happen.”

Thus the palpable sense that, since it’s burnt down, we no longer need to play housey-housey. The concerns of Gwarube and her colleagues will be ignored.

The committee had been particularly keen to hear from Bile as he, ultimately, was responsible for the calibre of security the SAPS had provided at parliament. His sudden reluctance to update MPs on the progress of the investigation into the fire and its aftermath is baffling, especially as he likes to be seen as a hands-on, fast-draw, no-nonsense sort of clown.

He had wasted no time, for example, in declaring that a police investigation had found that an electricity box had been “interfered” with at the ANC’s January 8 gala dinner at a luxury Limpopo hotel, plunging the venue into darkness during Squirrel’s speech. “Police can’t just assume what happened without investigating,” he said. “We are investigating that and we are hopeful we are [moving] in the right direction … ‘Sabotage’ can be the term if you want to use it, but someone did interfere with the system. We will be coming soon with the outcomes of that investigation.”

Bile’s comments were, unhappily, somewhat at odds with ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile’s version of events, that the blackout was simply due to an electrical fault. Mashatile did, however, play down suggestions that the blackout should, heaven forfend, be regarded as an embarrassment to the party. 

We digress. What should of course be embarrassing about this entire episode is the state’s negligence in not maintaining the fire control and safety systems at Parliament. What insurance cover there may have been against a blaze of this nature will almost certainly be cancelled as a result of contractual breaches. Should the building be restored, the public will be footing the bill. 

None of this appears to be of concern to the ruling party. These people have never given two Fawkes about the functions of Parliament and its institutional ideals. All that “home of our democracy” hooey. It will not come as a surprise should the government decide to just walk away from the charred mess, turning its back once more on the people.

Future assemblies   ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I personally have no objections to Parliament’s relocation. Pretoria, as mentioned, is an option. But perhaps Orania, as I have suggested in a previous column, is the more obvious choice. Quite apart from the fact that this humble yet industrious town in the Northern Cape is practically the geographical centre of the country, it is also literally miles from anywhere and thus mammon-free: no upmarket malls, glitzy boutiques, luxury car dealerships or other big city distractions to lure lawmakers from the rigorous course of their duties. 

Meanwhile, some entrepreneurial folk whose trousers are too tight may wish to use the gutted ruins of Parliament as a venue for rave parties. It could even be a film set for any number of cheap, post-apocalyptic slasher flicks. The sky’s literally the limit, seeing as there’s now no roof. Better be quick, though. Once the social justice types start talking of the homeless, the place will be gone for good.

Occupational matters

I’m now a trucker. Thanks to Brexit, and there is no other reason despite what you may have heard, there’s a massive shortage of heavy duty drivers in the UK. The figures tossed about in the media here range from fifty thousand to twice that. Demand has skyrocketed, and so has the pay. So I got my HGV licence, and am fast becoming familiar with the country’s industrial estates as I trundle hither and thither from depot to depot with my deliveries.

But I may have hitched my ponies to the wrong wagon, as it were. The new hot, in-demand career in these parts is “offence adviser”. They perform a vital role, reports The Sunday Times, in the preparation of recipe books. 

The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver employs “teams of cultural appropriation specialists” to vet his recipes to avoid being accused on insensitivity. This, mind you, from a man who, according to the comedian Frankie Boyle, uniquely flavours his dishes with his spittle.

Oliver told journalists: “Your immediate reaction is to be defensive and say, ‘For the love of God, really?’ And then you go, ‘Well, we don’t want to offend anyone.’” As an example, he offers up his “Empire roast chicken”, a “bloody good recipe” in 2012 but one that would be unacceptable today. 

You’d think a simple name change wold solve the problem — “slave chicken”, perhaps — but no, such obfuscatory measures are not permitted, especially when  the spices used in this dish cannot be disguised: turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala. 

Almost all dishes consumed in the UK, barring the odd boiled turnip surprise, have been purloined from the colonies. Not even fish and chips is British. Some upmarket restaurants in London are now offering bunny chow on their menus. The fools. How is such a thing even possible without a white “government loaf” from the old Atlas Bakery in Johannesburg?

There’s no such thing as a guilt-free lunch it would seem, and nothing can be eaten with a clear conscience. With everything off-limits, the offence adviser’s important work is all the more easier — a piece of cake, as the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) will tell you.