This year’s State of the Nation Address was a carnival of unmitigated disgrace. There’s just no other way to describe it. It will be remembered mostly for the ruling party’s silencing of the media and the opposition while the president threw his head back and giggled throughout the entire disruption. But what set off the chain of events that climaxed with the EFF’s forced removal and the DA’s walkout? Where did it all start?
The red carpet went smoothly enough. The sun (not as mercilessly hot as it had been in the preceding days) was suspended against Cape Town’s skyline and a cool breeze wrapped itself around parliament as MPs and guests started sauntering from the red carpet into the Assembly. There were the obvious fashion faux pas (ANC MP Thabiswa Nkwana wearing a dress made from what looked like freshly plucked chicken feathers) while some MPs were, as the parlance goes, “swagged out” (Mandla Mandela, with his black blazer and accompanying traditional Xhosa attire, comes to mind). But as the night displaced daytime, and the pageantry of the red carpet came to an end, things quickly took a turn for the worse.
The chaos started early
Inside the National Assembly, no more than five minutes had elapsed into the start of the programme when DA MP John Steenhuisen raised a point of order. This was after journalists in the media bay brought to light that their cellphone signals were jammed and as such they could not live report the president’s address. Steenhuisen argued that this was tantamount to censorship and was “in direct violation of the constitution”. After initially arguing with the Speaker of the house, Baleka Mbete, the signal was restored and everyone reckoned some semblance of normality would be restored. This wasn’t the case. Steenhuisen had started a trend and now everyone was submitting points of order in the same manner that Bafana Bafana dishes out subpar performances (just one after the other).
EFF MP Godrich Gardee, clad in the party’s signature red overalls, took to the podium. His question was simple enough: “When is the president going to pay back the money?” When the Speaker refused to take his point of order, Gardee probed further, asking a question that elicited a collective “LOL” from the Twittersphere.
“We just want to know when and how the president will pay back the money. Is it by EFT, cash or eWallet? How will he pay it back?” probed Gardee. This, however, was where the comedy would end.
EFF thrown out of parliament. DA walks.
And now, for the headline that everyone’s been writing about. The moment parliament came face to face with itself, threw its head back and finally revealed that it had no dignity left whatsoever. A heated exchange ensued between the Speaker and the EFF and when the party refused to leave the Assembly, they were thrown out. Armed security literally dragged the EFF out the National Assembly – ripping Malema’s shirt while allegedly breaking a female MP’s jaw.
Outside parliament, with the rain pelting his forehead, Malema addressed the media, saying the scuffle wouldn’t deter his party from going about its work. “We are going to be part of this parliament,” he began. “We are not going anywhere. We will continue to raise our issues without fear or favour.”
Inside the Assembly, the atmosphere was still fraught with tension. The DA’s Mmusi Maimane and John Steenhuisen were particularly offended by the heavy-handed manner in which Malema and company had been hauled out. Maimane called it “a violation of the constitution” while Steenhuisen commented that “you can’t fight bad behaviour with bad behaviour.” He may as well have been talking to a wall. “We had repeatedly asked people to leave,” responded deputy speaker Thandi Modise. “We are allowed to ask for security, whichever security, to act, in support. We should allow house to do its business.” That was what settled it: the DA had had enough and staged a walkout.
“There is a law that says that the legislature must conduct its business in an open and transparent manner,” Maimane told the media as he left the Assembly. “The speaker cannot escalate the issue by sending the police into the chamber”
The show goes on
But you know what they say; the show must go on. And it did. After the EFF were thrown out of parliament and the DA staged their walkout, President Zuma continued with his speech. He spoke of ‘resolving the energy challenge’, ‘unlocking the potential of SMME’s’ and government’s plan to ‘create more than 60 000 [job opportunities] during the next financial year’. This was his day and no amount of tomfoolery or violence would rob him of his shine.
There’s a metaphor somewhere in all of this about our country’s state of affairs. About how, toward the end of his speech, the president flippantly alluded to the EFF’s dismissal by saying “sidabhukela abangeko abangasizwa [we feel sorry for those who couldn’t be with us]”. But this no laughing matter. What happened last week was an indictment: a sum of all our failings as a society and parliament. Headline upon headline has been written about the attempted silencing of the media and the vulgarity of the violence inflicted upon the EFF. But maybe we are also complicit in the madness? Isn’t it true that a country votes for and get a government it deserves? If so, maybe the next time you point a finger at the madness, it would be good to remember that three are pointing back at you.
Photography by Rofhiwa Maneta
Follow me on Twitter: @_Rofhiwa_
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