‘Madam chair, point of order!”
“Yes, honourable member. On what point do you rise?”
This has become a familiar exchange for anyone who has been following parliamentary sittings over the past few years.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent state of the nation address (Sona) was not spared from this exchange.
For many, it was the most memorable part of the address.
The exchange was initiated by EFF members, who disrupted proceedings and eventually walked out.
They began their disruption by protesting against the presence of FW de Klerk, the country’s last apartheid president, in Parliament. De Klerk and his wife were invited guests.
In a televised interview, conducted a few days before the Sona, De Klerk had denied that apartheid was a crime against humanity, saying: “Apartheid was not the sort of grand mass crime that could be compared to genocide.”
Many MPs lambasted the EFF’s actions as disorderly, but nothing was said against the disorder of having a former apartheid leader deny the inhumane governance and brute crime that was apartheid.
This is the real state of South Africa, where symbolic order matters far more than the dignity of the country’s black majority.
This was clear in the way MPs reacted to the Sona drama: they wanted decorum and order in a country beset by deep systemic and leadership disorder.
Where it matters most – in the quality of life experienced by most of South Africa’s citizens – our country lies in deep disorder and dysfunction.
An example of this is local government. Many municipalities are mired in financial and infrastructural ruin.
In a scathing report by the Auditor-General, only 18 of the 257 municipalities audited for the 2017/18 financial year met the satisfactory conditions required for a clean audit.
Irregular expenditure by municipalities currently tops R20 billion.
This means that our municipalities find themselves in a state of disarray totalling billions of rands as the country battles a plethora of socioeconomic ills.
The implications of this are huge: the funding meant for service delivery and providing decent living conditions for South Africa’s citizens has been wasted and/or looted.
Read: No more waiting: Ramaphosa urged to find practical solutions
This has had a ripple effect on other basic services, such as the provision of water.
And, it is what led to the death of seven-year-old Mosa Mbele in QwaQwa in the Free State: she drowned in a river while fetching water.
Had the municipality provided running water to the community, the way it was meant to, chances are she would still be alive.
Mosa’s life is one of many that have been lost, leaving families devastated because of leaders who continually fail to serve their constituencies and to account for irregularities.
The disorder that has become the norm affects every aspect of people’s lives. It is this disorder that our leaders should focus on, rather than give air time to apartheid denialists like De Klerk.
We are constantly being forced to focus on the present, with its bread-and-butter issues.
Social grants are becoming increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of the poor.
Families in Mzansi are going hungry, as malnutrition figures show, and pensioners have appealed to Treasury to increase their grants, citing an inability to cope with the inflation rate – which is forcing them into further poverty. All of this is symptomatic of government’s failure.
Infrastructure has also hit crisis levels. It shows in the inability of low-income earners to access efficient public transport – just this week, many were left stranded in Cape Town when Eskom cut power supply to rail lines.
As these economic power games are being played, the poor are left with the burden of having to find ways to survive.
Is there any hope that order will be restored?
All that is clear is that our leaders are not the saviours we would like them to be. Their ideas are out of touch with what South Africans experience.
Perhaps the challenge is for us to reimagine and position our collective power in a better way.
Government has become immune to the pressure we place on it to do better.
Protest action is met with unreasonable force, at times without even hearing the reason for it. Formal avenues to object are accessible mainly to the elite.
Perhaps Sona is a reminder that South Africa’s wound will not stay covered up. It is time to focus on the right type of order: putting citizens first and heeding their demands for service delivery, so they can have quality of life.
Rabaholo is a junior campaigner at amandla.mobi. She was previously involved in youth development work and lecturing in theology. Follow her on Twitter @Ausidini
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