Parliament resembles disorderly beer hall - Zwelinzima Vavi

New federation says People's Assembly represents opposite of what true values of our people are

The political and constitutional crisis in South Africa

The statement of the Steering Committee for the New Independent and Democratic Trade Union Federation on the political and constitutional crisis in South Africa

24 May 2016

The Steering Committee for the New Independent, Democratic and Campaigning Federation noted with shock the scenes that took place in the National Assembly on Tuesday 17 May 2016, when security was called in to remove EFF MPs, and the violence that ensued.

Parliament is the highest symbol of our democratic state. It is the single most important symbol of our constitutional democracy. It is a place that has been graced by those held in highest esteem around the world. We can mention but just a few such as Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Getrude Shope, Frene Ginwala, Sister Bernard Mncube, etc. It has been a place of orderly but robust debates, honour, integrity respect, etc.

The People’s Assembly ought to set a shining example of tolerance of different views and intellectual debates, in particular in the context of our history. Every time our people watch Parliamentary debates they should through good example see democracy in action

Regrettably however our parliament represents the opposite of what the true values of our people are.  It has become a circus and an absolute joke. At times it has resembled the most disorderly rowdy scenes of a beer hall.

How did we arrive at this point?

In order to deal with the situation, we need to trace the source of the problem, which is not difficult to do. For a moment we shall ignore the symptoms and look at the real reasons why the National Assembly has stagnated and deteriorated to these extremely embarrassing levels and shameful scenes.

Our country is going through a crisis of leadership. As a result of this crisis everything that should be seen as wrong has become normal. There is no doubt that generally there has been a scarcity of sound and moral leadership in our parliament. The general leadership and moral decay has been exemplified and highlighted by the by the following:

1.  President facing 783 corruption, fraud and money laundering charges

The NPA dropped the 783 charges against the President of the ANC on 6 April 2009. This was a controversial decision given that President Jacob Zuma’s financial advisor, Shabir Shaik, had already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Many, including great minds in the legal fraternity, had felt that the President and his financial advisor should be tried together, as some of the charges overlapped. Ever since then the DA has embarked on a process to get the decision of the NPA declared invalid. It finally succeeded when a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the decision to drop the 783 corruption, fraud and money laundering charges were irrational and decided that the decision should be “reviewed and set aside”.

This cloud hanging over the President of our country is at the centre of the political crisis South Africa is going through. He is accused of being corrupt, a fraudster money launderer and a racketeer! The President has used every trick in the book to avoid being held accountable. This week we are seeing yet another episode of a well orchestrated, rehearsed and coordinated strategy to frustrate justice by a today domesticated NPA and our President appealing even though they know fully well that the unanimous decision of the full bench of the High Court that has ruled that withdrawal of the charges was irrational. These appeals are part of the well-established routine to ensure that the President never ever face justice or held accountable.

Ordinarily the President facing these legal challenges should have never been allowed to occupy the highest political office with this cloud over his head. The ANC under a different leadership had recalled him as the country’s Deputy President in 2005. Yet the ANC under a different leadership saw it fit to elect someone with this cloud into the highest office of the land.

This controversy on its own has delivered the most devastating blows to the standing of parliament and our country in general in the eyes of our people and in the eyes of the peoples of the world. This political set-up has meant that the President and National Assembly that elected him lost moral authority. It is from this loss of moral authority that the aura associated with the President and National Assembly has diminished to the extent that they have become a joke and a laughing stock. Comedians and cartoonists are using both our President and scenes in our parliament to entertain bemused and paying audiences all over the world. Our leaders are a subject of ridicule and are consistently lampooned by even our own children. Respect is not enforced but earned; and this applies to all citizens; including the president. The parliamentary security service can use brut force to ensure order but they cannot ensure that there is honour, for we need leaders that are honourable not the ones who will depend on enforcement of honour through the police.

2. The Constitutional Court ruled that the President failed to “uphold, defend and respect” the Constitution

The unanimous ruling of the Constitutional Court (which meant all 11 Justices agreed), on 31 March 2014 simply deepened the political crisis to new lows. Never in the history of our country did we have a President possibly facing 783 charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering but then to make matters even worst, condemned by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court, for having failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution. It means that the President has broken his oath of office. The oath of office for South African President reads as follows:

“In the presence of everyone assembled here, and in full realisation of the high calling I assume as President (or Acting President) of the Republic of South Africa, I, (name), swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic; and I solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always promote all that will advance the Republic, and oppose all that may harm it; protect and promote the rights of all South Africans; discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience; do justice to all; and devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people. (So help me God.)”

We acknowledge that the President called a press conference and supposedly to apologise for the “confusion and pain” this whole saga has caused. But this was not an apology. The President simply and stubbornly refused to apologise for all that was exposed in the Public Protector’s Report called “Secure in Comfort”. The President did not apologise for the following:

1. He did not apologise for violating his oath of office or failure to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.

2. He did not apologise for his failure to “discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience; do justice to all; and devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people”, in that he knowingly:

a) Allowed South African tax-payers to fork out R250 000 000 on his private residence, even though the state had budgeted R27 000 000 for security upgrades. The media exposed this runaway expenditure as early as early in 2010.

b) Allowed the builders to dig holes in his own yard to build a swimming pool, amphitheater, visitors’ centre, fowl run and cattle kraal and did not stop this from happening but instead sought to defend and justify it.

c) Allowed members of his Executive not only to insult the Office of the Public Protector but also to defy a Chapter Nine Institution.

President Jacob Zuma is elected to the position, of President by the National Assembly. Ordinarily this body should proactively take action to:

a) Protect the image of president Zuma from attack to his person when he may not be able to defend himself;

b) Protect the image of the National Assembly,

c) Protect the image of the nation, and;

d) Take any other action necessary and provided for in law to bring the matter involving the president to finality.

Yet, the majority in the National Assembly has not acted to protect this institution and regrettably it will not in the near future. It is our considered view that the failure by the National Assembly to take proactive action is the source of embarrassing scenes seen in our National Legislature. This is the source of the political crisis engulfing South Africa.

The ANC, a distinguished liberation movement which has produced the most outstanding leaders who are celebrated all over the world, today stands accused of being responsible for the unfolding crisis and moral decay.

We say this not to in any way condone the foul language or tactics employed by those resisting the imposition of abnormality as normal. We are dealing with the source of the crisis, which are the facts outlined in this statement.

We call on the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces to act with speed to restore the image of these important institutions of our democracy.

Issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, 24 May 2016