In the fifth democratic Parliament, which commenced in May of this year, South Africans have witnessed what is supposed to be reasonedand robust debate degenerate to the point of disruption, anarchy and chaos. Some in our society have found this amusing or exciting, including some in the media and have gone on to describe it as “robustness”, which is a travesty and does injustice to the notion of “robust debate”.
Those of us who see Parliament as one of the most critical public institutions, where citizens send public representatives to execute their will, solve national problems and shape the South Africa of their dreams, see the intentional disruption of parliamentary business as extremely serious, a dereliction of duty of the highest order. The fact is, in an environment of anarchy, robust debate is impossible and parties to the debate shut their ears from hearing one another. Reason becomes the loser and the mandate of the voting public gets abdicated.
In this space, I will present an analysis of the emerging dynamics in the fifth democratic parliament, explore tactical options for managing Parliament in light of attempts to disrupt it, and finally, argue that the ANC must not be distracted by the strange and unprincipled alliance of the EFF/DA. It must, instead,remain focused on delivering on its manifesto, particularly radical socio-economic transformation to achieve a better life for all.
The EFF, in partnership with its unlikely bedfellow the DA, have been behind much of the disruption we have seen. Several conclusions can be drawn from the antics we have witnessed. Firstly, the EFF and DA have formed a de facto ‘strange alliance’, driven primarily by antipathy towards the ANC, not by any positive agenda or principle. It must be truly unique in world politics to have a right-wing party, the DA, allied with a professed left-wing party in the EFF. This strange alliance illustrates the essential political confusion and dishonesty which characterizes the opposition. At a time when South Africans seek serious answers on how to transform an economy which remains structurally extractive and exclusive, a party that ostensibly calls for liberalism, finds itself in league with a party for whom nationalization is the answer to every question. This oxymoronic relationship exposes a bankruptcy of political philosophy.
Secondly, the strange alliance seeks to use guerrilla tactics to frustrate the ANC majority. Having failed to secure a majority, the EFF, for whose leadership radicalism has always been more about style than substance, has decided nihilistically to seek or steal political victory through obstruction. The EFF wants to apply the principles of guerrilla warfare to parliamentary politics.
On the other hand, the DA, which gets more racist as democracy gets ensconced, and has decided this term to send as its front-benchers the most reactionary and backward bunch of young fascists, is happy to hide behind the EFF in pursuit of the same goals of retarding and negating radical socio-economic transformation. What the DA would be ashamed to do, they leave it to the EFF, but together they are joined-to-the-hip, brothers in arms, in derailing Parliament and progress.
In guerrilla, or asymmetrical warfare, a force which is outmatched in military power terms, aims to frustrate the superior force with hit-and-run attacks. Aware that it cannot win a direct, decisive encounter, it chooses to fight a war of attrition. Unable to destroy its opponent outright, it attempts to bring about death by a thousand cuts. It achieves success through carefully chosen, symbolic acts, and often attempts to provoke its opponent into overreaction, hopeful of eliciting sympathy from the populace.
This has clearly been the EFF’s approach, and the DA, always on the lookout for a black face to lead its assault on the ANC’s majority, is only too eager to collaborate. Their biggest weapon thus far is an overwhelmingly sympathetic, unquestioning, sycophantic right-wing media. In fact, we have a strange situation in South Africa where the overwhelming majority of the media detest, to put it mildly, the party that brought freedom, and work day and night for its undoing. The EFF’s tactics are well known at this point: the use of frequent and frivolous points of order to interrupt speakers whose arguments they disagree with; the use of disrespectful language and gestures to establish an image of ‘too radical for Parliament’; the use of gimmicks, such as clothing, to draw attention away from their actual policy proposals; and provocation aimed at forcing the presiding officer to remove them from proceedings in repetitive and increasingly obvious attempts at martyrdom.
Thirdly, the EFF’s emergence as the DA’s stalking horse, is especially welcome given its own leadership instability. The DA has been weakened recently, as one of the few leaders with a significant national profile in Ms. LindiweMazibuko, left the parliamentary caucus on “sabbatical”. Her replacement, in Mr. MmusiMaimane, clearly lacks legitimacy and support in the DA caucus, as evidenced by his caucus promptly refusing to abide by the political deal he struck with our Deputy President to allow Parliament to conclude its business. To gain legitimacy as Helen Zille’s heir-apparent, he has resorted to dishonesty and untrustworthiness as a strategy. With the media spotlight on the EFF’s antics, the DA is able to avoid scrutiny of the tensions that clearly exist between leader and caucus, and the structural issues which underlie them.
This fraternization between the DA – the right-wing, neo-liberal, pro-fascism, anti-majoritarian racist minority – and EFF – fascist populistdemagogues posing as the ultra-left- has been nothing short of a revelation, although not surprising at all. Both are targeting the youth in a frantic effort to imbue them with liberal or populist ideas and turn them into reactionary adherents of backwardness. The EFF is trying to imbue the youth with infantile ideas that the problems of our country accumulated over centuries of colonial domination can be solved through easy and short-termist solutions that will, on the contrary, have the effect to wreck our economy and reverse the gains of our revolution.
What is funny is that whilst the DA believes privatization is the solution to all the accumulated socio-economic problems of our country; the EFF believes, to the contrary, in nationalization. Yet, on every issue in Parliament, they vote together!
Accordingly, we need to renew and rebuild the revolutionary-democratic political organs of the people, the ANC, so that it remains viewed by the masses as, and itself acts in a manner consistent with and confident of, the leader of the masses in a revolution.
Tactically, we will do well to do adopt a proactive and measured, rather than reactive posture. The strange alliance can slow proceedings and execute stunts, we designed the rules of Parliament to ensure everyone has a say, even those who use the platform poorly. Rather than react, we should remain calm; they can only avoid bringing issues to a vote for so long. We must also be careful not to descend to their level, no matter how much they provoke us. In a battle of wills, if you are reacting, you are losing.
The core functions of Parliament are to make laws, deliberate thoughtfully on issues of national importance, authorize the use of national resources to fund government and achieve national objectives, and to oversee the work of the Executive. Political parties’ presence, conduct and work in Parliament, must primarily be about executing these tasks. Parties are of course entitled to differ with one another on issues, and pursue differing political objectives. I do believe, however, that where parties put their own narrow political concerns above the interest of the nation – that demands that Parliament do its work – then I believe voters will punish them harshly indeed. We must trust that voters see how the strange alliance is squandering the opportunity they have been given, and will punish them at the ballot box in future.
But we must only end there; we must conscientise the public about such stunts and bring to the public’s attention the real intentions of such stunts. Furthermore, we must disabuse the public of the false notion that anarchy means the same thing as “robustness”. This means that ANC must wage an ideological offensive, using its vast organisational machinery, to educate and conscientise the masses, and win public discourse in this regard.
We must keep this in mind as we go about our work in Parliament. Let us leave the strange alliance to worry about winning momentary battles- for publicity and the admiration of political analysts- while we remain focused on winning the only war that matters: the National Democratic Revolution. It is the burden of leadership to have to focus on the quiet, thankless tasks of governing, while others have the luxury of alternately criticizing or making unrealistic promises.
An overwhelming majority of South Africans have given us a mandate to bring about radical socio-economic transformation by simultaneously industrializing the economy, unlocking growth potential through infrastructure expansion, supporting labour-intensive sectors, and using state procurement strategically to support localization and entrepreneurship. We dare not fail. Our people do not want to hear excuses from us, or listen to our complaints about the strange alliance that sought to derail us at every turn. We have a majority that would be the envy of many a progressive political party around the world, we must remain focused on using it to drive the policies and programmes which will decisively address the triple challenges and bring about a better life for all.