MPs can wear what they want

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Parliament has backed off from prescribing a dress code for its MPs, by not including it in the official rule book but leaving it to individual presiding officers and party whips to consult on a general guideline book.

After more than a year of haggling over a dress code – the ANC energetically proposed a ban on hard hats, overalls and domestic worker uniforms in a clear reference to Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs – there is no mention of a dress code in the new rules.

The ANC used its majority to push the new rule through at the last sitting of the quarter on Thursday. The new rules will come into effect immediately but will only apply when MPs return after the August 3 elections.

Rule 45 of the new rules states: “Members … are required to dress in a manner befitting the dignity and decorum of the House, as may further be provided for in guidelines approved by the rules committee [and] provided that no party symbols may be displayed.”

The former dress code, described as “ ludicrous” by opposition parties, did not only propose a ban on overalls and domestic worker outfits, it went as far as proposing a ban on “shoes that showed toes”.

The guidelines have not been finalised. Unlike rules, guidelines only assist in terms of procedure, whereas a rule is more rigid.

Richard Mdakane, the ANC MP who chaired the subcommittee which worked extensively on reviewing the National Assembly rules, told City Press that in the guidelines, they will deal with “what is regarded as appropriate dress in the chamber”.

Mdakane explained that a dress code could not be put in the rules because “rules can’t be changed every time a new person comes with a new dress code”.

Opposition parties, however, have vehemently opposed the idea of Parliament prescribing a dress code. And while some parties object to the EFF’s outfits, they acknowledge that party’s right to express itself through its clothing.

The EFF itself has previously vowed to ignore whatever dress code Parliament adopts, with party leader Julius Malema vowing they would rather go naked than abide by such a prescription.

The DA voted against the new rules on Thursday. The party was unhappy that the ANC would not agree to have unscripted questions for ministers.

The DA has argued for months for questions without notice to the president and to ministers, saying this would ensure that they are on top of their portfolios
and can respond to current issues rather than the current 14-day wait before a minister responds to questions.

The DA is also complaining that the motions and MPs’ political statements have been dumped at the end of the National Assembly’s plenary programme and says this prioritises the executive over the constituencies on whose behalf the statements are made.

DA MP Natasha Mazzone said a dress code would be inappropriate in a diverse country with a constitution that allows freedom of expression.

Mazzone said a presiding officer will only be allowed to object to an outfit that in any way endangers another member or could be used as a weapon.

An ANC MP said: “The party did not push harder for the dress code because it did not want to prescribe what MPs should wear.”

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