Self-serving politicians are there for the perks. They have no regard for what matters to ordinary people: jobs, safety, health and dignity and so on, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela
On 19 September 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa summoned Parliament to an unprecedented extraordinary sitting to exhort political parties and law makers to actively take part in the fight against gender-based violence.
There had been parliamentary debates in the past about the scourge. But none as direct on the subject, non-partisan, exclusively convened for that purpose and led by the president of the Republic himself.
Ramaphosa’s speech was bold. Due to the position, he might easily have been tempted to portray his country in a positive light, spinning the sad developments gripping the nation.
But not Ramaphosa on that day. He appeared to be a leader prepared to swallow his pride and confront the reality of a society at war with itself.
Yes, he used the word “war”.
“I have called this special joint sitting of the houses of Parliament because there is a dark and heavy shadow across our land,” he said.
“The women and children of this country are under siege. There is a very violent and brutal war underway against the women of South Africa.”
He backed his concerns with some spine-chilling numbers, including innocent victims like the brutally murdered University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
The previous year, 2 700 women and over 1 000 children had died at the hands of another person, Ramaphosa said. Police were handling hundreds of reported cases.
Ramaphosa went on: “I am today calling on all Members of Parliament and all political parties gathered here to come together to signify the magnitude of the challenge we face, and the importance that our Parliament should attach to it.”
As for a solution, besides the symbolism of unity of purpose that the special parliamentary sitting would convey to society, Ramaphosa said his government was working on a strategic plan as well as an emergency plan.
These would involve tackling the gender-based violence at all angles – from inculcating the values of responsibility among young boys to fixing the criminal justice system.
Early this month, Ramaphosa played host to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was on a state visit to South Africa.
Presumably with Ramaphosa’s prior knowledge or having been briefed about how passionate our president was in tackling gender-based violence, Merkel donated cars to the government for use in tackling gender-based violence.
Ramaphosa clearly didn’t take offence that the German leader saw in South Africa a country struggling to deal with gender-based violence. Again, this was a sign Ramaphosa was prepared not to be shy in addressing the issue; but to be upfront.
Back to Parliament this week, Ramaphosa was dumbfounded, seething in anger and looking emotionally drained as he listened to EFF leader Julius Malema accusing him of having abused his late wife.
Malema was so crude in his language. He wished her soul would rest in peace, but he did not even bother to send condolences to the president.
Malema used the platform provided by the state of the nation debate to abuse his parliamentary privilege as a retaliatory measure to inflict pain on his ANC political opponents.
This after Boy Mamabolo, ANC MP and homeboy from Seshego in Limpopo, had claimed in the middle of last week’s despicable parliamentary fracas, that the EFF leader had physically abused his wife.
The question then is, if Malema was genuinely concerned about Ramaphosa’s alleged past conduct, why didn’t he raise this issue where it was most relevant, when the president had called for all members and parties to “signify the magnitude” of the challenge of violence against women?
The same question is applicable to Mamabolo. On 18 September 2019, not one member of parliament accused the other of having abused their partners. Now, what other allegations are they holding back on each other, waiting to unleash them in future when it is most inappropriate?
In the meantime, should we really trust anything they say in Parliament about any other issue?
Of course, to mention “trust” and “politicians” in the same sentence is to many people scandalous.
You can’t blame South Africans for their cynicism. Self-serving politicians are there for the perks. They have no regard for what matters to ordinary people: jobs, safety, health and dignity and so on.
Which is why they would turn a State of the Nation Address into a spectacle.
The rowdy EFF triggers it, the majority party’s terribly weak benches fail to provide leadership and the sensible voices among other opposition parties drown in the cacophony.
It’s a cocktail for a perfectly dysfunctional so-called representative of the people, otherwise known as Parliament.
On violence, why should South Africans believe Malema is genuinely concerned about it when he and some of the EFF MPs are facing criminal charges related to assault.
Some of the charges involve the assault of law enforcement officers in and outside Parliament.
Malema claimed victory for having had the ANC “by the scrotum”, his choice of crude language.
But his real victory, which he shares with Mamabolo, is that he defeated decency by turning Parliament into a scandalous arena. All in the interest of a self-serving moral (or is it immoral?) equivalence battle.
Ramaphosa has made tackling gender-based violence a major priority of his presidency.
He should be judged by whether his strategies can help save the country from the dishonor of being the most violent, particularly against women.
Let’s see if he can win society to support his plans.
There is one problem whose solution is beyond his powers and squarely lies within the realm of voters: restoring the integrity of the South African Parliament and elevating national debate.
Even after the EFF-triggered noise had dissipated, there was evidence galore that quality of debate in Parliament leaves much to be desired. It is a place where the best is the ordinary.
For as long as Parliament continues to be what it is, it means we, the voters, like it that way and it will stay that way.
– Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.
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