Tantrums?for change

2014-07-07 10:00

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The EFF is pushing the political envelope, but to what end?

Dali Mpofu, the outspoken lawyer and one of the founding members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), was not amused by remarks made by the ANC chief whip in the Gauteng provincial legislature last week.

Once EFF members had been kicked out of that legislature on Tuesday for wearing their signature red overalls and domestic-worker uniforms – which Speaker Ntombi Mekgwe deemed “inappropriate” – Brian Hlongwa, the chief whip of the ANC in Gauteng, sought to amuse the House by remarking that the “Grade Rs” were absent. The jibe is said to have drawn howls of laughter from the remaining MPLs.

Mpofu was even more offended by Mekgwe’s remarks when she made the decision to call the police and have the obstinate EFF members removed.

“Ntombi Mekgwe said this is not a garden, which means she thinks people that work in gardens are lowly people, beneath her status?…?she cannot sit with them,” he said.

On the face of it, this seems a rather radical and far-fetched analysis of the furore surrounding the inappropriateness of the EFF’s attire, which seems to be offending the tastes of the normally well-suited representatives of other parties; and whether such garb is suitable for the corridors, let alone sittings, of our esteemed houses of legislation.

But look closely, the sustained objections of ANC politicians to the behaviour of EFF representatives has very little to do with their over-the-top attire.

Just like right-wing political parties and civil society groups, the ANC and its foot soldiers across the country are offended by the very concept of the EFF and the young man who conceptualised it into a party with 25 national seats and representation in every province.

This is the man Luthuli House had defeated; and when the big party defeats you, you are supposed to roll over and die. Yes, Bantu Holomisa and the Congress of the People (Cope) went down kicking and screaming, but Julius Malema is a different kind of foe.

As a former president of the ANC Youth League, he knows the governing party intimately and knows what buttons to push to get a reaction out of it. He also claims to know all its tactics, having been – in his words – part of the “underground core” that was tasked with devising a strategy to dismantle Cope back in 2009.

This might go some way towards explaining the heavy-handedness with which ANC-aligned presiding officers in Parliament and provincial legislatures are dealing with the EFF.

Julius Malema and his party members have raised the ire of other members of Parliament for their casual attitude towards protocol, and particularly their offhand criticism of the ruling party. Picture: Liza van Deventer/Foto24

It will be interesting to observe how the courts interpret the three contentious rulings that have been made against Malema and EFF members over the past few weeks.

The Speaker of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, ruled that it was “unparliamentary” of Malema to attribute the Marikana massacre to the ANC during his reply to President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address. He was asked to leave the House when he refused to withdraw the remark.

Ironically, Modise lost her position as deputy secretary-general for backing the same slate as Malema before the ANC elective conference in Mangaung about 18 months ago.

In the Eastern Cape, EFF leader Themba Wele was kicked out of the Bhisho legislature by Speaker Noxolo Kiviet for referring to white people as amaBhulu (boers) during a debate on the state of the province address. In Gauteng, EFF members have been warned that they will be barred from the legislature if they continue to wear their red overalls and domestic-worker outfits to sittings of the House.

The EFF has threatened to take all the rulings on judicial review.

Malema’s remarks on Marikana are open to different interpretations mainly based on the political leanings of the person making the argument. Those sympathetic to the ANC say the governing party and its government never ordered the police to open fire on striking miners.

But those holding a counterview say the police who opened fire were employed by the ANC government, hence the ANC should be blamed for the massacre. The courts will need to intervene on this one.

But it is the Eastern Cape EFF leader’s expulsion from the provincial legislature that is even more puzzling. Why would the ANC, which so steadfastly defended Malema for singing the controversial Dubul’ibhunu (shoot the boer) struggle song back in 2011, suddenly have a problem with the word ‘amaBhulu’?

Wele’s context in using the word is even milder than the erstwhile revolutionary chant to kill the boers: “Niyawoyika amabhulu okanye nilala nawo ngengubo enye [you are scared of boers or maybe you share the same blanket with them],” he reportedly said.

So it’s okay for the ANC when one sings of wanting to “kill the boers”, just as long as you don’t accuse the governing party of sleeping with them under the same blanket?

The EFF is pushing the envelope with the red overalls and domestic-worker outfits. In fact, the behaviour of some of its public representatives over the past month has bordered on infantile petulance. The fact is they don’t have to dress like workers all the time to prove they identify with workers’ struggles.

It will be interesting to note if this behaviour is extended, over the coming years, to staying where “workers” stay, taking their children to the same schools that workers send theirs, using public healthcare facilities and using public transport regularly.

But however absurd their reasons for insisting on wearing the overalls to Parliament are, it is becoming evident ANC-aligned presiding officers are under pressure to bring out the guillotine when it comes to the red berets.

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