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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Parly rule 53a is a sign of the times

Julius Malema speaks to reporter Jan Jan Joubert after being ejected
It was only a matter of time before the new parliamentary rule book would be thrown at Julius Malema. Rule 53A was, after all, designed specifically with the former darling of Jacob Zuma in mind.
Yet when the EFF’s “commander in chief” was physically ejected from the National Assembly by newly appointed “bouncers” on Wednesday, it was somewhat unexpected.
Perhaps it was because it was “happy hour”, around 6pm. The parliamentary sitting was about to wrap up. It had opened three hours earlier with rather hum drum, defensive oral replies from a visibly overworked Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. This was followed by equally average answers from the ministers in the economics cluster.
The sitting dragged on with a tedious bombardment of motions without notice. The EFF repeatedly objected each one, unless they were the proposers. This is a new trick that the cocky 6percent party has adopted as an up yours to the ANC and opposition parties who approved the new rules to eject unruly MPs in July.
By this time, Ramaphosa had long since vacated the house. The MPs benches were half empty. All but one journalist had abandoned the gallery, some retreating to their dingy offices at 100 Plein St to file while keeping half an eye on the live television parliamentary broadcast. Others had gathered in the Old Assembly for light relief, a send-off of the parliamentary rugby world cup squad, hosted by the country’s deputy president.
It was then that presiding officer Grace Boroto switched to unfinished business. She revisited the session of August 13, where Malema had referred to Ramaphosa as a murderer. Boroto ruled – quite rightly – that his comment was unparliamentary and told him to retract. Instead, Malema repeated that Ramaphosa was a murdererer, adding that he “must rot in jail”.
It was obvious what was going to happen next. Reporter Jan Gerber captures it on video
Parliamentary staff and journalists dashed to the National Assembly. Wily reporter Charl du Plessis switched on his cellphone video camera as he found his way to the Serjeant-At-Arms, Regina Mohlomi, who till recently had performed a ceremonial role. Now she was issuing urgent instructions to former SAPS officers to enter the house and remove Malema. Charl's video
“Do you know what Malema looks like,” she asked the enthusiastic officers, hired especially to deal with disruptive MPs in terms of Rule 53A.
The giant doors opened and the officers moved in swiftly. They yanked out the EFF leader, flanked by his loyal sidekicks.
Issued with a five- day suspension letter, Malema is barred from the precinct until Wednesday. The ANC issued a statement welcoming the decision. The EFF challenged it. The DA, while backing the new rules, called for a review, saying that Boroto escalated the tension and did not need to resort to rule 53A, which was reserved for “gross disruptions”.
While controversy rages over Rule 53A, it is only a matter of time before it will be invoked again.
But the necessity of having Rule 53A in the first place is a symptom of more serious underlying issues. The circus that has characterised the fifth parliament is moving into an even more contested phase - the precinct becoming more secretive and militarised, the democratic space narrowing and the schisms widening.
What is going on in parliament is a microcosm of what is happening nationally. Attitudes are hardening. Desperation, divisiveness and disrespect are growing, Intolerance and mistrust are deepening.
At the root of the decline is a vacuum in strong leadership and authority that can be trusted. Amid the dirty scrum, there is a dearth of leaders with the interests of the country, not their fiefdoms, at heart.
That a proud and quite remarkable multiparty institution –a place to parle, which means to talk – is at risk of being eroded of everything it has stood for since 1994 is a crying shame.

* This article first appeared in Media 24 publications between 11 and 13 September.

Julius Malema speaks to reporters after being ejected. Pic Janet Heard