Mandela’s Parliament vs Zuma’s Parliament

2014-12-04 14:30
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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* In this week leading up to the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death, News24 will be running a number of content pieces looking at the impact and contribution his life had on the country, and the notable events of the past 12 months.

Mudslinging in the National Assembly has elevated Parliament TV to a new level, it’s almost bordering on becoming as addictive as those reality shows you love to hate, and certainly would never admit to watching!

With MPs hurling insults and fists at each other as riot police evict them from the National Assembly, is Parliament in danger of becoming as shallow as the Keeping up with the Kardashians or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

- What excites you the most about the much more raucous Parliamentary sessions this year? Add your voice by e-mailing or uploading.

Nelson Mandela’s Parliament is often used as an example of what we are in danger of losing, but was it all sweetness and rainbows?

Present day scenes include chanting by EFF MPs as President Jacob Zuma looks on stony faced and calls for the speaker of Parliament to go. EFF MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela even went as far as calling Zuma a “thief”.

At one point after being reprimanded by Parliamentary Speaker (and ANC chairperson) Baleka Mbete for addressing her by her first name, the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu responded: "You are not my mother. We are equal members here. This is a professional matter, not a cultural matter."

Responding to the EFF’s condemnation of the eviction, ANC hit back at the “chaotic circus” and “unruly conduct” of the EFF MPs. “The dangerous alliance of a racist DA and a fascist EFF driven by a common hatred and disdain for the ANC has once again displayed its contempt for our democratic institutions,” ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said in a statement, reported by the BBC.

Old-style decorum

And while the rough-and-tumble Parliament might make for riveting viewing, many are uncomfortable with this new “culture of disrespect” and are calling for a return to the old-style decorum.

But this decorum also slipped sometimes when Madiba steered the ship...

It is perhaps worth looking back at some of the battles that unfolded in Parliament at the time.

Probably the biggest scandal to hit the Mandela administration surrounded the Sarafina 2 musical. In 1995, then health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had accepted a tender from composer-director Mbongeni Ngema with a price tag of R14m. While Dlamini-Zuma’s intention was to use the musical as a way to raise awareness around HIV/Aids, the astronomical costs soon became the main focus in the media and on the opposition benches.

Mandela’s response was uncharacteristically irritable and defensive. He lashed out at the media for “creating such an uproar” and said that Dlamini-Zuma “should be left alone to do her job”.

Journalist and author Ray Hartley says: “The belief that the new order meant that the executive would account to elected MPs had been dealt a major blow. When the chips were down, Mandela came down on the side of his minister, who suffered no consequences other than the embarrassment that resulted from the media ‘creating such an uproar’.”

Mandela and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi also locked horns in 1995 over a dispute regarding international mediation. Buthelezi claimed that his party had only agreed to contest the 1994 election after Mandela promised to involve international mediators in the finalising of the country’s constitution.

Good relationships

In February, Buthelezi staged a walkout from Parliament to protest what he saw as Mandela’s broken promise. And in May, Buthelezi called on Zulus to “rise and resist” what he called an imposed constitutional dispensation.
Mandela hit back, accusing Buthelezi of attempting to encourage an uprising against the new democratic government. Pulling no punches, Mandela told Buthelezi that he would cut off all central government funding for KwaZulu-Natal (which was led by the IFP).
While this was eventually resolved through negotiation, the country was once again taken to the very brink of a potential civil war.
Frene Ginwala was parliamentary speaker during Mandela’s presidency. It is perhaps worth comparing her approach and style with that of Mbete.
Ginwala, while tough when necessary, managed to develop a good relationship with the various parties and built a reputation of fairness.

While different personalities may have something to do with this, Ginwala, unlike Mbete, did not have to straddle the dual roles of speaker and chairperson of the ruling party.
Mbete, fairly or unfairly, is seen by opposition parties as allowing these conflicting interests to interfere with decisions she makes as speaker of the National Assembly.
Howard Barrell, writing in the Mail & Guardian, in 1999 just before Mandela’s farewell speech to Parliament said: “Ginwala has been one of the stars of the session. By turns sharp, stern and also tolerant of the humour and childishness to which MPs resort to make long debates tolerable, she has earned the respect, if not always the affection, of her colleagues.”

Dignity under threat
Referring to the infamous punch-up between the ANC’s Johhny de Lange and the NP’s Manie Schoeman, he went on to say: “For example, through astute handling of the political parties, she managed to make of the Schoeman/De Lange punch-up something which has strengthened MPs’ commitment to maintaining the dignity of their institution.”
Compare this with Mbete engaging in verbal spats with opposition members and calling in police to remove chanting MPs. Add to this a president who has seemingly gone AWOL from Parliament and we are left with a feeling that the “dignity of the institution” is very much under threat.
On the other hand though, our young democracy remains a vibrant one, with people still speaking truth to power … and in some cases speaking truth to the speaker. If all our new soap opera parliamentarians achieve is getting more people to engage in our journey beyond the rainbow, they will have earned their TV ratings.

- The mudslinging in the National Assembly is a hot topic at the moment. Should things in the House return to the way they were during Madiba's reign?Upload or e-mailyour thoughts.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  nkosazana dlamaini-zuma  |  frene ginwala  |  jacob zuma  |  baleka mbete

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