EFF - How long can this go on?

By Drum Digital
23 August 2014

Thursday’s antics communicated the clear message that the EFF, unlike other opposition parties, was not prepared to play by the rules.

The EFF is hogging the headlines again, eclipsing what was supposed to be President Jacob Zuma’s opportunity to provide answers to the nation. Thursday's Parliamentary session, in which President Jacob Zuma was due to answer questions from MPs on a range of subjects, was abandoned after the EFF demanded that Zuma should outline plans to pay back a portion of the R250-million the state spent on his private Nkandla homestead. Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete, who had just returned to work after her drawn-out leave of absence, looked helpless as the shouts from the men and women in red resonated through the august house. The chants sounded like they had been rehearsed and had all the hallmarks of the theatrics Julius Malema has become famous for. This was not surprising as the party was acting true to form. After all, its leader Malema told his final election rally in Atteridgeville in May that he was going to Parliament to shake things up a bit.

"We're dealing with rebels -Zizi Kodwa"

Nor would it defer to the executive even when it feels that the executive is merely paying lip service to accountability.

Zuma has not covered himself in glory by failing to account for the quarter of a billion his private Nkandla homestead has cost the taxpayer. His belated response to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report – which said the president should pay back a “reasonable” portion of the money spent on non-security upgrades—could be seen as a snub for the Chapter Nine institution Madonsela heads.

Look at how Zuma brushed off DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane’s question about a possible conflict of interest in the president appointing the heads of the NPA when he potentially has pending legal issues. In essence, Maimane suggesting that perhaps Parliament should have more say in how the NPA bosses are appointed to stop their high turnover because of their political vulnerability.

Zuma’s answer was simple: this was a non-issue. With that Maimane was forced to sit down without any substantive answer being offered by the head of the executive.

Of course, Malema adopted a different approach altogether. That is why we saw the drama that unfolded on Thursday when Zuma would not give him a direct answer to his question: “When are you paying back the money?”

However, five years is a very long time for a party like EFF to sustain this kind of adversarial style of politics. If it wants to use melodramatic tactics to shock the public into paying attention to its cause every time Parliament has a major session, then it will need a very creative imagination that will always take the ANC by surprise.

Parliamentary rules also exist for a reason, even if the EFF thinks they are too colonial for the South African context. At some point it will have to beat its rivals in the ANC within those rules. Or else it will pay a heavy price for flouting them.

After the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane congress, many had hoped that the legislature will have more teeth to keep the executive accountable. All those congress resolutions to that effect remain just that.

Perhaps an ANC caucus that holds its own executive accountable might have a better advantage over the young upstart. Instead, ANC MPs seem more content in playing the role of rubber-stamping. In that context, there might be no accountability for excesses such as Nkandla without a vibrant opposition.

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