It is in the crucial moments of shame, which punctuated the ceremony and the proceedings of the SONA and its subsequent debate, that the true state of our nation was revealed, writes Tinyiko Maluleke
No matter how low the political stakes between the EFF and the ANC; no matter how disconnected South African parliamentarians may be from the daily struggles of ordinary South Africans; no matter how sordid the backstory that informs the seemingly juvenile relationship between Jacob Boy Mamabolo and Julius Sello Malema might be; neither of them, nor any member of Parliament, are entitled to the arbitrary and malicious use of (the names of) women as tools in their battles.
Not even the fact that from time immemorial, men at “war”, all over the world, have chosen, again and again, to reduce women into part of the “loot and plunder” of war, is a valid excuse.
Weaponising women and turning their bodies into a terrain of struggle, and doing this inside the National Assembly, is unforgivable. Not in a country with such a chronic problem of gender-based violence as ours.
As if the sheer vulgarity of their expensive outfits and their bling-bling accessories which they crassly displayed as they strutted their stuff upon their highfalutin red carpet, was not enough!
Our public servants seem to live in a parallel universe, far removed from the world of mud schools, pit latrines, shacks, chronic joblessness and grinding poverty in which the vast majority of South Africans live.
In more ways than one, they stuck their tongues out in the faces of poor, before, during and after the SONA.
Even the members of a National Assembly in a country that seems to be losing its way, ought not to throw graveyard soil into the eyes of the desperate citizenry who voted for them.
Shockingly, our Honourable Members, proceeded to perform, the ancient rituals of toxic masculinity right inside the assembly which is constitutionally “elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution”.
When the SONA proper was supposed to start, the arrogance of the parliamentarians went into overdrive.
The dead weight of their sense of entitlement hung thick and heavy in the air.
The foul smell of misogyny engulfed every nook and every cranny of the house.
And the stale stench of their negative energy rose and was transported from Parliament into millions of homes across the country.
For the first one and half hour, the EFF unfurled their well-rehearsed filibuster strategy, two painful minutes at a time.
Malema threw the first stone.
With that stone, the EFF killed three birds: condemning the contemptuous, if also inane, denial by FW de Klerk that apartheid was a crime against humanity, delaying the start of the SONA and exposing the political ineptness of the ruling party.
By the time the EFF got to their bête noir, Pravin Gordhan, they were triumphant.
And yet, what stung like a swarm of killer bees, from both the ANC side and the EFF side, on both the 13th of February during the SONA and the 18th of February during the SONA debate, was the vulgar, insensitive and oppressive tone of language as well as the sheer disdain shown for the citizenry.
When Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, delivered her Nobel lecture in December 1993, she might as well have been speaking of our parliamentarians when she referred to “the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience”.
Morrison may have correctly anticipated the increase in the deployment of vulgar, pretentious and violent language all over the world. In this regard, our parliamentarians are down there, at the very bottom, competing with the worst.
Again and again our members of Parliament resort to what Morrison calls “language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind”.
Consider the carelessness, bluntness, hatred, insensitivity and the violence, that lurked below the surface, in the interventions of Boy Mamabolo and Julius Malema at SONA.
“We cannot be abused like the manner in which Mantwa is being abused at home by honourable Malema. … EFF if they want to engage you, let us go outside and engage outside …”
Nor did the Presiding Officer take any action against these shocking utterances.
Which may be the reason Mamabolo felt emboldened to regurgitate his allegations during the SONA debate.
Malema’s response was as vicious as it was uncouth.
Substituting hearsay for proof and evidence, Malema alleged that Ramaphosa “used to beat his late wife”.
The shenanigans of Mamabolo and Malema reminded me of an opinion piece which respected academic, Slavoj Žižek published in 2016.
The piece opens with a reference to an instance in which Donald Trump was “unflatteringly compared to a man who noisily defecates in the corner of a room in which a respectful drinking party is going on”.
Žižek went on to give several illustrations of other global leaders who engage in similar actions.
I am afraid that soon, the parliamentary shenanigans of some of our public servants, may soon qualify them to be on the Žižek list of defecators.
So, where may the real state of the South African nation be seen?
Not in the text of the SONA delivered by the president on 13 February 2020.
Rather, it is in the crucial moments of shame, which punctuated the ceremony and the proceedings of the SONA and its subsequent debate, that the true state of our nation was revealed.
As amplified swear words and insults rang out in our National Assembly, and did so with impunity, the true state of the nation was revealed.
In their crass and public display of wealth, in the violence of their language, in the arrogance of their demeanour and in their attitudes of disdain for the citizens, our members of Parliament demonstrated the true state of our nation.
As women were wantonly brutalised, loudly hated and turned into tools, in the war of words between men of power and between their boisterous cheerleaders, our true state of the nation was revealed.
Misogyny may be the true state of our nation.
– Tinyiko Maluleke is the Deputy Director of the University of Pretoria Center for the Advancement of Scholarship. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @ProfTinyiko