Colour in the house: Team Black vs Team Red

2011-11-23 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The atmosphere was reminiscent of a school sports day.

There were two teams facing off in the National Assembly, with the black team shouting “No!” and the team featuring mainly red outfits shouting “Yes!”

The atmosphere was almost congenial in the National Assembly as time ticked away until the moment when a final “Yes!” in favour of the Protection of State Information Bill sounded from the ANC benches at 3.20 pm.

A naïve, ordinary person will have found this amiability, this almost childlike banter in Parliament, disconcerting. You’re sitting there in the gallery with your media colleagues and other members of the public, looking down on your leaders.

You’re dressed in black to show your condemnation of a bill which, in the words of the editors’ forum, could suffocate our freedom to know what is being done in our name. It is Black Tuesday.

The sombreness you’re looking for surfaces for a moment when Azapo leader Mosibudi Mangena mentions the name of the late Percy Qoboza.

Because Black Tuesday evokes the memory of Black Wednesday.

That was the day, in October 1977, on which Qoboza’s newspaper, The World, was shut down by the then minister of justice, Jimmy Kruger.

Qoboza and many other people, including a number of journalists, were subsequently detained without trial for six months.

Mangena said there is a photograph of Qoboza in Azapo’s offices: an editor surrounded by police. Some are wearing sunglasses; others are dressed in safari suits.

Haniff Hoosen spoke on behalf of the Independent Democrats. No offence intended, but he did look like Fester Addams. Contributing to his gothic appearance was the fact that a black cloth covered the lower part of his face. But at the end of his impassioned speech he mentioned that he had toothache.

In contrast to this, there was the gaiety of someone like Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in her floral dress and matching red jacket. And the hairdo framing her fine features in a way that reminded one of a well-known depiction of Marie Antoinette.

Then something strange happened. Suddenly my pen refused to write another word. Dana Snyman lent me his pen, but I managed only to make a note about the sphinx-like presence of Deputy President Kgalema Mothlanthe as he sat there impassively next to the vacant seat of the president of South Africa when that pen, too, stopped writing. If it had been a firearm you would have said it had jammed.

So I borrowed a pen from a photographer. And would you believe it: that pen also refused to write.

The last few notes about the day when Parliament voted by 229 votes to 107 in favour of the Protection of State Information Bill were written in pencil.

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