On Nkandla: Parliament Must Act

2014-03-24 01:12

Parliament's logo: What does Parliament mean to you? (Image from www.parliament.gov.za)

Lindiwe Mazibuko’s impeachment motion of President Zuma is gaining momentum. As the full details of the Nkandla Report become known and internalised our Parliament will be living history as it deals with this never-before used process.

Indeed, a cursory search for the word ‘impeachment’ in the 7th edition of the National Assembly’s rule book, available on Parliament’s website, does not bring up any results. It is not there. It does not exist.

The political drama this lack of clarity will give effect to will no doubt become the subject of intense disputes between the DA and the ANC. The DA smells blood and is intent on going after Zuma – and for 246 million good reasons. The ANC, for reasons I have written of elsewhere, will not have any of it: they have chosen to stick with Zuma and so will defend him as best as they can.

Even though the Constitution is clear the rules of Parliament are not. This disjoint has been litigated over before and even though legal precedent should indicate that the odds are in Mazibuko’s favour, namely that the motion should be heard with haste, that is not guaranteed.

The legal battles over the meaning of words is only about to begin.  As I have written elsewhere, in the context of motions of no confidence, these things are important – not only for the sake of the law but also for the sake of ensuring that the Constitution, our supreme governing document, is given effect to.

Whatever the outcome of these seemingly obsolete though important arguments, our Parliamentarians face a tough choice. Either they can, as they have been so far, be divided by partisanship and party political interest; or they can rise above and choose to act in a way that defends our democracy and respects, protects and promotes our Constitution.

While many will assume that this plea is applicable to ANC MPs only, it, in fact, does not. MPs from all sides of the House must engage with the motion and the Report critically. They must apply their minds independently and in a non-partisan way. Now more so than ever, they must act with a sense of independence in the name of the country. They must rise above their self-interest and what their party would have them do. And they must vote in a way that their consciences will allow and that they will defend to future generations.

As Thuli Madonsela said, ‘If government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law.’

The onus on our political class extends beyond the fate of Jacob Zuma and those of his acolytes accused of wrongdoing. The very institution of the law and the Constitution itself is at stake. Should the ANC run roughshod over principles of good governance; and should the Opposition opportunistically attempt to abuse the Public Protector’s Report for its own sake, the law will be made a mockery of. And our respect for it will concomitantly diminish. And that is good for no one.

And I make no apologies for wholly supporting Madonsela’s damning evidence. Why would she make such adverse findings unless they were true? Give the ability of any person investigated by her office to take the matter to Court and have adverse findings made against her – thus rubbishing her credibility – it makes her sense to not have her report as watertight as possible. The accusations that she has been playing politics or acting under the aegis of others are serious charges but, when one considers the facts, they do not stand up to scrutiny. Rather, those who seek to damage her credibility do so because they are trying to deflect attention away from what she has reported on. That cannot be allowed to stand.

In matters of personal angst, it is often the case that we have to go through something horrendous in order for us to experience the best in others. One wonders whether, in these terrible circumstances, given just what an abuse of power and authority they represent, whether we will experience the best of our MPs?

If our political class does not rise to the occasion and act boldly and decisively in favour of the rule of law, then the tenuous relationship they have with us as voters will become even more strained. Politicians are already thought of as foreign given that they have no significant systemic or local ties to those people they ‘represent.’ Too often they are more concerned with party games and their own careers. It is about time that Parliament becomes the powerful and robust institution that it is envisaged as being. The House must not be an environment where politicians play political games. It must become the People’s House: of the people, by the people and for the people.

Otherwise, at the elections later this year, we must send a resounding message to our rulers. Like Oliver Cromwell said to the Rump Parliament in 1653, ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!’ And then we should punish them at the ballot box. For we deserve better. And if they are not as good as we deserve then we must get someone else.

** Visit the dedicated News24 page for all the latest updates regarding the upcoming elections.**

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