LETTER TO THE EDITOR | SONA 2021 debate: A battle of insults

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MPs in the National Assembly.
MPs in the National Assembly.
PHOTO: Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images

Zama Mthunzi writes that parliamentarians have reduced critical debates across party lines to the battles of insults and screaming at each other.


For a while, South African politics has been a huge theatre with many plays.

More recently, the country was glued to the tea show between EFF leader Julius Malema and the former president of the country Jacob Zuma during the ongoing Zondo commission saga. And how dare we forget about the biggest theatre room which is our Parliament?

In many ways, our parliamentarians have lost hope in their ability to run the country and have reduced critical debates across party lines to battles involving insults and screaming. One might ask who must play the bigger person in this chaos.

The loud screaming and insults came from every corner of the theatre room. Opposition party leaders shouted that the president was "incompetent", "incapable" and "weak", and, from the benches, parliamentarians called each other all sorts of names: "fools", "illiterate" and "useless". To say that noteworthy debate around the actual State of the Nation Address (SONA) took place would be a blatant lie.

The "parliamentary show" has now become a permanent feature. Parliament is a scandal shop of elites who have long forgotten why they are there in the first place. This has led Parliament and the SONA itself to lose its prestige and importance to the majority of South Africans. The highlights and what is now reported is who said what about the other and not the contents of the president's speech.

Service delivery protests

The only hope for the poor majority is to look out of the gates and engage in external pressure.

South Africa is now known to be the protest capital of the world. The protests have been largely dominated by service delivery protests for basic human services. A political system that fails the majority in the provision of basic needs, such as water, electricity, sanitation, and housing, has no business in discussing scandals and rumours of ruling and opposition party members because those they represent are further pushed to unemployment and poverty.

The theatrics seen in Parliament reduce the institution to a group of privileged individuals who prioritise their self-interests and ambitions. It shifts the functions and responsibilities of the institution towards the courts and judicial system, making them the centre of governance. Governance structures, such as ministries and departments, lack accountability to the public, the private sector remains unregulated with no fear of persecution, and the vast majority see no direction and no reason for Parliament to exist.

This chaos in Parliament has now spilt over to other organs of state and democratic institutions. This all happens for the sake of parliamentarians and their personal fights that have nothing to do with the majority. The Zondo commission into state capture has already revealed that state institutions, such as the State Security Agency and others, were part of corrupt activities that involved parliamentarians and political party leaders.

The parliamentarians and their party leaders have, in many ways, mobilised people to join this chaotic show. We have seen how people have been called to march against certain leaders, attend court cases and events that do not have anything to do with the well-being of the country or themselves as individuals.

Protect institutions of democracy

Leaders of society must always be disciplined by the people who elect them and not the other way around. The show cannot continue. The decay is enough. As the Covid-19 crisis deepens and more and more South Africans find themselves without employment and without hope, people will fall into despair and lose all hope in Parliament as a to improve their deteriorating standards of living.

As we approach the 2021 local government elections, a bleak picture forms, with a well-expected lower voter turnout that undermines the whole project of democracy. Institutions of democracy (including Parliament) must be protected and must not be used for personal fights or gain. 

- Zama Mthunzi is a mathematical science graduate from Wits University and an education activist, who was recognised on Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young People in the education category in 2020.

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