As people say, there is never a dull moment in South African politics. Indeed, in 2015, there were many moments in our politics that were definitely not dull.
The year started in February with a State of the Nation address like no other since the advent of democracy. President Jacob Zuma stepped to the podium to deliver the State of the Nation address but, as promised, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) interrupted the proceedings and demanded that the President indicate when he was going to pay for his portion of the Nkandla nonsecurity upgrades, in accordance with the report and findings of the Public Protector.
As you know, and to cut a long story short, the EFF was bundled out of the House by police officers dressed as waiters. I suppose they were there to serve a bit of police brutality, with the permission of the speaker, to EFF MPs. However, what I suspect most journalists who were there will remember is how our intelligence service blocked cellphone signals in the Parliamentary precinct. What most people may have forgotten is the fact that the Democratic Alliance (DA) walked out in protest against the hooliganism of the police. This incident and others since 2014 have raised many questions about Parliament, the Speaker, the relationship between the African National Congress and opposition parties, as well as the relationship between opposition parties, particularly what appears to be a growing rift between the DA and the EFF.
What concerns me the most is the issue of Parliamentary privilege. There was a time when MPs could say even the most outrageous of things in the knowledge that they would not be booted out of the House by police officers in waiters’ uniforms or by waiters in police uniform. If an MP made a serious allegation against, let us say, the Deputy President, by calling him a murderer, the worst that would happen to such a Parliamentarian would be a demand from the Speaker to articulate the allegation in a substantive motion.
And then there is the question of growing tensions, at least in Parliament, between the EFF and the DA. Since the 2014 elections, it seemed the two parties were developing a tactical alliance against the ANC in the House. This alliance seems to have broken down because of the decision by the DA to vote in favour of a raft of measures aimed at arresting disorder, also known as the EFF to some, during proceedings. According to the EFF, the DA voted in favour of police assaults on EFF MPs. To the DA, and I am paraphrasing loosely here, the conduct of EFF members amounts to an assault on reason.
As we advance towards the 2016 local government elections, will these strained Parliamentary relations affect the capacity of the two parties to go into coalition arrangements should such a need arise? In my view, what the two parties desire is irrelevant because it is the election results and the margins that will dictate whether the EFF and the DA go into coalition should no party win an outright majority in places such as Nelson Mandela Bay. What DA leader Mmusi Maimane should worry about is the possible danger of the DA becoming EFF Lite and he Julius Malema Low Fat.
As interesting as Parliament was in 2015, the award for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in a Political Drama must indubitably go to . . . university students for their participation in the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall campaigns. These campaigns reminded me of the 1976 uprising and the insurrectionary climate of the mid-1980s. In both cases, young people were, in part, impelled by what they must have thought were deficits in courage on the part of the older generation. Put differently, their struggles were, among other things, informed by the impatience of youth about the pace of change. Similarly, young people today, 21 years since the advent of democracy, are not satisfied with the pace of change, especially the pace of economic change.
But young people must realise that no genera- tion can, on its own, bring about fundamental change in society. For their part, older South Africans must accept that we do not always have to travel to our past to encounter a golden age. Many a golden age lies before us if we concern ourselves with making decisions today of such a quality that dangers to progress are rendered impotent and the promised land of our fore- fathers becomes as inevitable as the rhythm of night and day. In other words, a prosperous South Africa, at peace within and with itself, will come into being the day we learn to fuse together the wisdom of age with the energy, creativity, innovation and fearlessness of youth.