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Monday, November 24, 2014

The dirty politics across the road from the sex shop

Tense standoff between police and EFF members August 21 
 In the beginning, the fifth parliament took shape slowly and predictably, except for a minor distraction - the opening of an adult sex shop across the road. 
After the May elections, the ANC had been returned to power with a leaner, but still comfortable majority of 62% of the vote, its vexed president Jacob Zuma in place for a second term. The DA had a chunkier minority voice with 22% of the vote.
The wildcard was the arrival of the flamboyant, in-your-face Economic Freedom Fighters. However, with 6% of support, the jury was out on how much clout Julius Malema and his sidekicks could wield on the parliamentary precinct.
So when the garish red and yellow signage popped up between two cafes on Plein St in the early days, the ANC had time to make a noise. The ruling party  objected that the sex shop had no right to be situated outside Parliament as it “does not augur well for the integrity and standing of such a constitutional body”.
But the ANC quickly abandoned the trivial battle against the shop across the road as it got consumed by the dirty business that has rocked parliament – and the country - since August 21. The trigger, of course, has been the elephant in the room – the president of the country. And the EFF shook things up with a new method of up-yours agitation which has transformed the business of parliament.
In the past six months, the fifth parliament notched up a string of firsts. On August 21, the EFF brought the house to a shutdown after a standoff with the speaker, Baleka Mbete, over its spirited #paybackthemoney protest.
On 17 September the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu showed his middle finger at deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. 
On November 13, armed riot police burst into the chamber to remove a recalcitrant EFF member Reneilwe Mashabela who had refused to withdraw a comment that Zuma was a thief.
The EFF stage a sit-in at parliament on August 21
On Thursday night, the house had what is believed to be its longest session  since 1994 – from 2pm to 4am – though this included a 6 hour adjournment while parties tried to figure a way forward after the ANC was accused of unilaterally altering the order of the parliamentary programme.
In what is surely another first, Jan Pierewiet and Jingle Bells were sung in the house while DA politicians amused themselves during the extended wait.
In the past few weeks, South Africans who were suddenly hooked on the parliamentary TV channel  (when it wasn’t rudely cut)  became familiar with the term filibuster as the DA adopted US-style delaying tactics.
When deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa stepped in to broker a truce, one would have thought that exhaustion – if nothing else – would have got parties to see it through. Though there are questions about Ramaphosa imposing a truce on parliament, it seemed like a win-win interim plan to bring the temperature down. The deal would restore order and decorum to the house, parliamentary rules would be applied fairly and executive accountability (which includes Zuma) would be enforced.
But it was shattered within a day. Attempts to revive it are under way this week.
Now as the third term draws to a close, the fifth parliament is unpredictable, its integrity undermined (and it has nothing to do with the shop across the road).  But judging from the vibe in the corridors of parliament lateon Thursday night, many MPs are looking for a way from the impasse. Even inside the house after a 6-hour standoff, there was an air of camaraderie as parties slugged it out on normal parliamentary matters till 4am.
And here lies the hope amid the mud bath. MPs are in it together, and equally dependent on each other. That
ANC supporters fill the upstairs gallery in support of Jacob Zuma
is what multiparty democracy is about - even when it gets downright dirty. 

* This article first appeared in Beeld.


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