A dangerous parle-mental experiment

2014-09-21 15:01

Hate speech. Slurs. Howls. #paybackthemoney. #Baleka­MustGo. Banging on desks. Chants. Points of order. Walkouts. Finger gestures.

If you look down to tweet, you may miss these ­moments. They flow faster from our “honourable members” than the shorthand of even the most deft reporter in the media gallery above.

This is the fire heating the crucible that is Parliament at the moment. The result: a more rumbustious meaning to the ­definition of parle – to speak. Take Tuesday afternoon’s sitting.

Eighty-five minutes were set aside to debate the ­opposition’s motion of no confidence in Speaker Baleka Mbete – who also happens to be the chairperson of the ANC.

The party closed ranks around her. Luthuli House head honcho Gwede Mantashe flew in from Gauteng. Rowdy green-and-yellow-clad ANC supporters, who had been bused in, engulfed Mantashe as he perched in the special guest wing of the gallery behind Mbete. He had her back.

The opposition put the knife in, twisting it a few times for effect. The ANC hit back – ANC MP Bertha Mabe had to withdraw three times after saying Mmusi Maimane, DA leader of the opposition, was a “rented black”.

“Bastards!” she reportedly swore upon leaving the podium.

Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile “Razzmatazz” Mbalula savaged the opposition, describing the bond between the EFF and the DA as a “dangerous experiment” not to be tried at home.

Earlier, in another dangerous experiment, Mbete ­addressed a crowd using a loudspeaker from a police van. This caused a chemical reaction from the opposition. The DA accused her of “abusing state resources”.

Shortly after 6pm, it was voting time. But ANC chief whip Stone Sizani had a surprise. Hijacking the motion, he subverted it – ingeniously – into one of confidence in the Speaker.

This caused more bad chemistry, this time between DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and Mantashe. Steenhuisen charged: “Obviously a few SMSes have been ­exchanged?…?we have the lord of Luthuli House in the gallery. So he can sit eyeball to eyeball with them [ANC-MPs] and that’s precisely the problem.”

Later, Mantashe leapt up, made wild hand signals, swung his arms around and dabbed his handkerchief to his forehead. A parliamentary security guard rushed over to him, coaxing him to sit down – and stay down.

The vote – for the original DA motion of no confidence in the Speaker – went ahead. The result – 0 for, 234 against. Opposition parties weren’t present. They had staged a walkout.

The following day, the EFF turned up the heat. Julius Malema, the ­party’s commander in chief, asked deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa about his role in the Marikana massacre.

Ramaphosa, suave as ever, alchemised his answer into a lecture on how the government is assisting Marikana’s victims.

Juju went in for the kill.

“Why is the deputy president” – note the absence of the obligatory “honourable” – “not accepting that you are responsible for the death of 34 mine workers?”

Mbete: “Honourable member ... Honourable member ...”

Juju repeated his question.

Mbete: “Ple-e-e-ase withdraw that!”

Malema: “I’m not going to do that.”

His sidekick, the red-clad Floyd Shivambu, rose.

“Order! Order! Order! Order! Order!”

“Speaker, can we be guided by the rules of Parliament. Which rule prohibits us from saying Cyril is a murderer? He is a murderer. It’s a fact.”

Note again the absent honorific.

Mbete ordered “Honourable Malema” and “Honourable Shivambu” to leave the house.

They obliged, followed by their fellow fighters. ­Shivambu turned from his bench. He extended his right arm in the direction of Ramaphosa. A defiant middle finger was raised.

It happened in a split second and was lost to reporters tweeting from the press gallery.

On Thursday, Floyd turned that middle finger upside down, deciding instead to employ it to flip through his iPad. Juju was nowhere to be seen. A bored, almost happy atmosphere reigned in the House.

It was Phumzile van Damme, the DA’s feisty young parliamentarian, who shook things up.

“Xenophobia!” she yelled, after former ANC spin doctor Jackson Mthembu asked where she was born.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, horrified at the questioning of her nationality, objected. In his ­objection he referred to Mthembu as the honourable member. In keeping with the mood of the day, he ­hastened to add that he used the term ­honourable “very loosely”.

After withdrawals on all sides, Van Damme went on tell the House she would not be deterred by people who described black DA members as “house negroes” and “rented blacks”.

“Haters will hate,” she said. The house slumped back into its usual stupor.

But again, soon after 5pm, the heat began building in Room E249, above the assembly chamber.

Two leaders from the “dangerous ­experiment”, Maimane and Shivambu, were chatting amicably.

They had gathered for the newly constituted Nkandla ad hoc committee, locking horns with ANC members over whether it was premature to subpoena President Jacob Zuma to answer questions on Nkandla.

The president has other questions to answer. On ­August 21 he left the building discreetly, cutting short his presidential replies to questions from MPs. It was a crucial moment in the parliamentary calendar.

This came after the EFF brought the house to a halt with its own dangerous experiment – the ­#Paybackthemoney revolt. Zuma hasn’t been seen in the national assembly since.

– Reporting by Jan ­Gerber, Janet Heard, Maryna Lamprecht, Philda ­Essop, Alicestine October and Charl du Plessis

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