Max du Preez

'EFF peeing on Parliament'

2015-11-24 08:33

Max du Preez

It's better to have him inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in, former US president Lyndon B Johnson famously remarked about an opponent back in 1971.

I have often used this quote to make the point that our stability is strengthened by the fact that all or almost all political forces operate inside the system and have a voice in Parliament.

I don’t think this is altogether valid any longer. There are those inside the tent who pee right where they are, and others that act as if they’re not inside the tent at all.

I started my career as a political writer during the 1980s when the white Parliament was still supposed to be in charge, but the real political action was taking place outside it; the UDF, Cosatu, the ANC and the apartheid securocrats being the main actors. We called it “extra-parliamentary politics” in those days.

Extra-parliamentary politics

Well, we’re back to extra-parliamentary politics. Our post-1994 Parliament has been reduced to a playhouse where the ANC rubberstamps its own decisions, where the EFF uses theatrics to get the attention of the public and the gallery and where the DA desperately tries to remain relevant.

The political upheavals of the last year did not start in Parliament. The main actors were the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements and other pressure groups at institutions of tertiary education, the angry protesters in the townships and squatter camps, the Numsa grouping of Irvin Jim and Zwelenzima Vavi, the trade union Amcu, the warring factions in Luthuli House and, of course, the EFF operating outside the tent.

The EFF has much higher ambitions than reflected in the six percent support it received in last year’s general election. Its 25 (out of 400) members in Parliament barely make a dent, so they resort to performing for the gallery and the cameras. They’re peeing inside the tent.

That was why Julius Malema and his lieutenants decided to resort to extra-parliamentary politics. They want to operate inside and outside the tent. What they can’t achieve in Parliament, they want to achieve on the streets.

The student movements are not political parties represented in Parliament (although it is increasingly clear that they are being manipulated by political parties), so marches, rallies and even occupying buildings as forms of pressure are legitimate tactics – as long as they are non-violent.

This also applies to other civil society movements such as Right2Know Campaign, Equal Education, Abahlali baseMjondolo, Solidarity and AfriForum.

The EFF is threatening the private sector with occupation and even violence if companies don’t comply with its demands. For instance, Malema warned that the activities of the banking group Absa will be forced to a halt by the occupation of all its branches early next year if it doesn’t transfer 51% of its shares to black South Africans. Other banks, financial institutions, industries and eventually agricultural land will be next, warns the EFF.

EFF trying to force changes

And yet Section 25 of the Constitution is clear: “No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property.” (Section 25.4(b) states that property is not limited to land.)

More than 93% of the members in Parliament, our highest decision-making body, belong to parties that oppose any fundamental changes in our Constitution.

So, the EFF is trying to force de facto changes of the Constitution by means of mass action that they can’t change de jure because of its low representation in Parliament.

This is problematic. It undermines the worth and status of elections as tests of the will of the people and of Parliament as the highest legislative body.

In fact, it undermines the Constitution itself and therefore our already fragile stability.

This would not have happened if we had a president and government with high credibility and legitimacy holding the centre together.

It is the kind of situation that can develop when the ruling party sees itself as the state, and the president views his party as more important than the country.

I’m sure some readers will want to point out that the official opposition and even the ruling party itself also on occasion stage protests and marches. That is partly also due to the low prestige of Parliament in our national body politic, and partly due to the parties’ efforts to make themselves more visible and to support their positions in Parliament – not to force constitutional changes.

The ruling party being what it is and doing what it does, South Africa desperately need a more active civil society; more strong activism from all citizens and interest groups.

But we citizens should always be on our guard and ask: how representative is this loud group (be it Open Stellenbosch, #FeesMustFall or AfriForm), who is behind it, and exactly what is its agenda?

The louder and more populist our political discourse becomes, the more sceptical and questioning we as citizens should be.

- Follow Max on Twitter.


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