The EFF touches us on our studio

2015-02-11 17:19

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I’m nervous about the prospect of the EFF speaking while the president is talking during the State of the Nation Address. I cringed too when South Africans booed Jacob Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s memorial in 2013 – “during the people”, no less.

Respect for your elders is an African tenet as sacred as ubuntu. We practice it in our homes, and we demand it of our children. Growing up you needed to learn to duck or run if you had a predilection for speaking out of turn or asking difficult questions of your parents.

Respect for elders is also a strong foundation for our politics, where we, rightly, salute those with struggle credentials. To the politician piping up but without these badges of sacrifice we might say: “Take your sit; we don’t recognise you,” with a wave of the hand like Baleka Mbete.

That’s why the DA knew that to get a little respect in the election, they needed to find some struggle credentials. They picked Mamphela Ramphele, and a social media campaign that sought to bind their forebear Helen Suzman closer to Nelson Mandela.

The EFF is having none of that, and as much as it makes us anxious to witness them shouting down our 72-year-old president at such a revered democratic institution, I think it would be important if it did happen. Not just for the money, but to challenge established rules.

Now that the EFF’s presence has us watching parliamentary proceedings, you see some of the house’s absurdities. The contradictions of MPs calling each other “honourable” and swearing at each other in the same breath.

When you hear that there are actually no binding rules about dress code or presidency interruptions, you wonder as a citizen whether this is all just about decorum, a fixation with propriety that we probably inherited from the English.

Could it also be a good time to dare ask: exactly what are those struggle credentials? In her contribution to the Mail and Guardian’s 25 anniversary remembrance of the unbanning of political parties, Patricia de Lille writes:

“There are two types of people who took part in the liberation struggle: those who fought before February 2 1990, and those who only joined afterwards, when it was both fashionable and easy to do so…Today, some of the late joiners grace the corridors of Parliament and live in ministerial luxury. These people diluted the liberation struggle, yet today they are found to be the most vociferous about our liberation. They did not lift a finger during the struggle.”

Ben Okri in the magical Biko lecture he delivered a few years ago asked: “But how long does this magic period last… How long does it last, this sense of having climbed a mountain-top against all the odds and gazing back down over the journey accomplished…?”

Maybe this is it. It feels like the opportune time to wonder about these questions: At the 20-year juncture when we’re filled with jubilation, self-congratulations and mutual back patting, hazy from nostalgia. We need something to shake us out of our groupthink, to nudge us out of our middle class malaise on our way to being co-opted into the establishment.

I mistrust the EFF as much as I do any political party, but I do appreciate their appetite for asking the rude questions. Many of their proposed solutions leave many of us feeling uncomfortable, especially those of us, black and white, who have much to lose. But our situation is untenable and the protests and violet backlashes that target the vulnerable are not just a government problem, they point at all of our complacency.

I’m glad there are some among us willing to speak out of turn.

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