We hear about it in the news and sometimes get in on the debate. But do we really know exactly how the National Assembly works? With the help of the National Assembly Guide to Procedure, we take five points and break them down for the common man (you and I) to understand.
In 2014, South African politics took an interesting turn when former African National Congress loud-mouth Julius Malema made it to parliament with his newly formed party: the Economic Freedom Fighters. Before the elections, their red berets and red overalls became a tell-tale sign of “fighters” nearby and we now can spot them from a distance. But then they went one step further and caused a stir when they rocked up for parliament’s first sitting wearing these very outfits.
What the National Assembly Guide to Procedure says: There is no set rule as to what members should wear. In Chapter 11 under the Rules of Debate and Maintenance of Order, members are to “dress according to their personal tastes, provided such dress is in accordance with the dignity of the House”.
2. Order of meetings
In any meeting, there are unwritten and expected rules that should be followed. Things like “don’t be late”, “don’t speak when someone else is speaking” and so on. When it comes to Members of Parliament (MPs), it is no different. I’d like to point out that I have been to parliament before and I must say, it’s quite pointless trying to enforce rules when you don’t follow them yourself…
What the National Assembly Guide to Procedure says: Basic rules of order as you’d expect applies as described above along with members to be seated when the bell stops ringing, bowing to the Chair — in this case the current House Speaker Baleka Mbete, not conversing loudly during debate and so on.
3. Rules of debate
If you think that debating is all about screaming, shouting and insulting those who don’t share your view, you’d be wrong. There is a way in which you do things orderly and respectfully to ensure each person has a fair chance in putting their views on the table.
What the National Assembly Guide to Procedure says: As found in the Guide, rule 62 states that a member should as far as possible not read his or her speech. Rule 63 in the Assembly Guide states: “No member shall use offensive or unbecoming language.” So calling a fellow MP an apartheid spy or a madam would go against the rules of debate and be forced to apologise.
4. Point of order
When a member raises a point of order, this means that he or she believes that someone is going against a Rule or accepted parliamentary practice.
What the National Assembly Guide to Procedure says: Points of order must be, well, to the point and must be in relation to a parliament rule and not to argue someone’s statement. For example, if a Member is reading a speech, as we’ve seen above, that is not allowed. A point of order may be raised in this case as a parliament rule has been violated. But if a member doesn’t like what a fellow member has to say, a point of order won’t be accepted. You can only interject like that in a court of law.
So you may have heard in the news last year that the Democratic Alliance’s parliamentary speaker Lindiwe Mazibuko filed a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.
What the National Assembly Guide to Procedure says: “If the majority of the National Assembly members vote a motion of no confidence in the cabinet excluding the president, the president must rebuild the cabinet. Should majority of the National Assembly members vote a motion of no confidence in the president, the president, deputy president and other members of the cabinet should resign immediately.”
And there you have it! Now you can spot any dodgy calls and not feel left out when things gets heated in the House.