Screaming out

2017-02-28 06:00

AT the State of the Nation Address (Sona), a colleague took a video clip of members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) being wrestled out of the National Assembly by the white-shirted parliamentary protection officers.

The footage, captured from the media bay above the House, shows the violent scene in graphic detail, with several fierce clashes between the security officers and MPs occurring below us.

Over the ruckus in the footage, you hear the piercing scream of a woman.

After watching the clip several times to study what exactly took place, I realised the person screaming was me.

In the heat of the moment, you do not realise the impact of such violence and the shock to your own system.

This is the third consecutive year that the Sona has been interrupted and it is now commonplace for members of the EFF to be bundled out of the House when President Jacob Zuma is in attendance.

It was therefore not unexpected that violence would have occurred at the annual showpiece event with millions of people tuned in.

The next day, another colleague and I were talking about the events of the night before.

She admitted that the Fees Must Fall protests and violence in Parliament were causing her emotional distress, bringing back bad memories of her reporting duties during the apartheid era.

I realised how I had deliberately blocked off memories from my own past when I covered the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

Now and then, I get a flashback of a burning village or the horrors of a tavern or home fresh after a massacre.

Violence in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands was so rampant, so brutal and so frequent, that I eventually became numb to it and day after day simply went out and did my job to tell the stories.

Although our society is still abnormally violent, the cessation of political violence helped all those memories recede.

The Marikana massacre had threatened to take me back there, especially the images of lifeless bodies of the mineworkers lying in the dust.

The mind, I have come to learn, has tremendous coping mechanisms.

I am not sure what made me scream last Thursday night.

I recall one of the women MPs being thrown to the floor with a thud and several people falling on top of her. It could have been that.

Or perhaps it was just my system rejecting the general decline of our society that leads to such scenes being a normal feature in our politics.

During the debate on the Sona this week, several MPs decried the violence with members of the opposition also outraged about the presence of armed soldiers in the parliamentary precinct.

That was another thing that stunned me that day.

As we drove into town, military tanks and police nyalas were dotted along the main roads. Thousands of police officers had the city on lockdown.

It was a disturbing to see troops on the streets of Cape Town, many with their automatic rifles raised, poised to shoot.

Who or what was the threat?

In his reply to the Sona debate, Zuma said the conduct in the House has been “shocking and unbecoming”.

Some MPs “decided to treat this august House like something worse than a beer hall”, traumatising millions of South Africans, Zuma said.

He made no mention of his own contribution to the tensions, including his decision to deploy the army to help the police “maintain law and order”.

“As adults we can disagree ideologically, but we should not lose track of the national interest,” the president said.

If there was one thing this year’s Sona proved, the national interest has long being sacrificed.

The only thing that matters is the contestation for power, even if it is through authoritarian or violent means.

The cost to the rest of us, psychologically or physically, appears to be collateral damage.
Screaming out may be all we can do.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

• ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

AT the State of the Nation Address (Sona), a colleague took a video clip of members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) being wrestled out of the National Assembly by the white-shirted parliamentary protection officers.

The footage, captured from the media bay above the House, shows the violent scene in graphic detail, with several fierce clashes between the security officers and MPs occurring below us.

Over the ruckus in the footage, you hear the piercing scream of a woman.

After watching the clip several times to study what exactly took place, I realised the person screaming was me.

In the heat of the moment, you do not realise the impact of such violence and the shock to your own system.

This is the third consecutive year that the Sona has been interrupted and it is now commonplace for members of the EFF to be bundled out of the House when President Jacob Zuma is in attendance.

It was therefore not unexpected that violence would have occurred at the annual showpiece event with millions of people tuned in.

The next day, another colleague and I were talking about the events of the night before. She admitted that the Fees Must Fall protests and violence in Parliament were causing her emotional distress, bringing back bad memories of her reporting duties during the apartheid era.

I realised how I had deliberately blocked off memories from my own past when I covered the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

Now and then, I get a flashback of a burning village or the horrors of a tavern or home fresh after a massacre.

Violence in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands was so rampant, so brutal and so frequent, that I eventually became numb to it and day after day simply went out and did my job to tell the stories.

Although our society is still abnormally violent, the cessation of political violence helped all those memories recede.

The Marikana massacre had threatened to take me back there, especially the images of lifeless bodies of the mineworkers lying in the dust.

The mind, I have come to learn, has tremendous coping mechanisms.

I am not sure what made me scream last Thursday night.

I recall one of the women MPs being thrown to the floor with a thud and several people falling on top of her. It could have been that.

Or perhaps it was just my system rejecting the general decline of our society that leads to such scenes being a normal feature in our politics.

During the debate on the Sona this week, several MPs decried the violence with members of the opposition also outraged about the presence of armed soldiers in the parliamentary precinct.

That was another thing that stunned me that day.

As we drove into town, military tanks and police nyalas were dotted along the main roads. Thousands of police officers had the city on lockdown.

It was a disturbing to see troops on the streets of Cape Town, many with their automatic rifles raised, poised to shoot.

Who or what was the threat?

In his reply to the Sona debate, Zuma said the conduct in the House has been “shocking and unbecoming”.

Some MPs “decided to treat this august House like something worse than a beer hall”, traumatising millions of South Africans, Zuma said.

He made no mention of his own contribution to the tensions, including his decision to deploy the army to help the police “maintain law and order”.

“As adults we can disagree ideologically, but we should not lose track of the national interest,” the president said.

If there was one thing this year’s Sona proved, the national interest has long being sacrificed.

The only thing that matters is the contestation for power, even if it is through authoritarian or violent means.

The cost to the rest of us, psychologically or physically, appears to be collateral damage. Screaming out may be all we can do.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

• ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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