Zuma and Buthelezi: Fathers of Baleka Mbete

2015-03-13 04:48

The 11 March 2015 was always going to be a hot date between Jacob Zuma and opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) in the National Assembly. Many South Africans tuned in to see how much the now popular chant #PayBacktheMoney would dominate. The square off happened very quickly, even with contradictions between the Speaker and the Chief Whip of the ANC on how to deal with the issue of whether questions unanswered on the 21 August 2014 lapse or not.

However, for some of us, every plenary seating of the National Assembly is an opportunity to witness the callousness and incompetence of Baleka Mbete as the Speaker of the House. She seems to have taken a different oath to that of other Members of Parliament – championing the constitution and acting as an unflinching guardian of it and the house she presides over. Mbete is the only person who can exercise ultimate authority in the National Assembly, even if Zuma is there. In those chambers the President is under her authority.

It must be remembered that Mbete is no novice to the seat she occupies. She was the Speaker of the 3rd Parliament of the democratic Republic of South Africa. Therefore, her ineptitude must shock us as something deliberately constructed – a premeditated attempt to undermine the functioning and vibrancy of Parliament. It must be seen as an offshoot of the toxic politics of corruption, dead ideas and parasitic leadership that is at the helm of the ANC today. Mbete is also playing a game of using the National Assembly as an extension of jaundiced ideas permeating from the current ANC leadership about some hierarchy that views us as unequal citizens before the law, with ANC leaders self-immunising – by manipulating state apparatus – from the reach of the law.

The 11 March 2015 is the day Mbete made one of the most bizarre statements she has made to date in the National Assembly. Whilst responding to Mmusi Maimane’s follow-up question, Zuma cited the events of the 21 August 2014 as actions of causing ‘chaos in parliament’ by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This allegation prompted EFF spokesperson and MP, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi to stand up on a point of order.

Here, it is important to say that by its nature a point of order is interruptive; especially when targeted to the speaker on the floor, which was Zuma at the time. The right thing to do when such a point arises is for the Speaker to stop the President from speaking and have him sit down so she may attend to the point of order. You do not defer the order at will – as Mbete has done many a times. Even when she pleaded with MP Bogopane Zulu that she be suppressed by her (Mbete) for the day. It was a very unconstitutional plea on its own.

Back to the main point. When Zuma was done, he pleaded ignorance that he had not heard the Speaker call him into order whilst he was talking. Yet, we know that he (Zuma) heard the point of order by Mbuyiseni Ndlozi because he remarked facing Mmaimane that “and this is what happened on that day honourable member, when I am busy answering and some people stand up and made it impossible for me to answer questions….” Calling a point of order is by no means an unparliamentary action. By the remarks, Zuma was communicating his defiance and sense of ‘authority’ that he will not be interrupted whilst speaking. This is not in line with being parliamentary on his part.

The duty of Baleka Mbete as Speaker is to assist all MPs to carry out their duties in holding the Executive accountable meticulously. When Ndlozi stood on a point of order, Mbete reacted contrary to the rules; “No Honourable Ndlozi. No Honourable Ndlozi. The President is answering a question, can you take your seat. The order is for the President…Honourable Ndlozi….” In this moment Ndlozi, Mbete and Zuma spoke simultaneously. Here Mbete at first tried to be assertive and thereafter repeated sheepishly and faintly, “Honourable President please take your seat baba (father)”.

In his emotional (yes Zuma does get emotional from time to time when answering questions in the National Assembly and this was such a moment) state, Zuma continued to speak acting as though the commotion between Mbete and Ndlozi was mute. If it were to him, then he may need a check-up. Mbete then excused this ill-discipline as Zuma having been “in full flight” giving a response to Mmaimane – seeing nothing wrong about her inability to call the President into order under her authority vested in her by the rules of the house.

She went on to pronounce (when addressing the point of order by Malema speaking on the point of order by Ndlozi) that “Honourable Malema, for a start the President is not anybody’s equal here… in the same way as the Honourable Buthelezi is not our equal here. In the same sense. So I just don’t want us to be confused on the terms we use.” This was after Malema pleaded for equal treatment of people in the chamber by the Speaker without her preferential treatment. After Mbete’s praise singing, Buthelezi used the moment (not only to endorse her unparliamentary remarks but to ride on them) to insult fellow MPs saying ‘I just want us to be sober for a moment and look at those young people there…..’ He went on to emphasise why Zuma is unequal in the House and why he should be treated with the greatest of respect (the fellow monarchist said of the other).

The problem is not young people seeing drunken MPs when there aren’t any. The problem is young people witnessing a Speaker who is willing to run roughshod and undermine the rules of the house by imposing Buthelezi and Zuma as unequal patriarchs of the house. Who else is unequal to the rest? Winnie Madikizela-Mandela? What gains one this sense of being ‘superior’ to the rest? Currently Buthelezi leads a smaller political party than Malema in the National Assembly. What was happening was Mbete irrationally imposing patriarchy on the youthful leaders of the EFF, demanding – not respect – but hierarchy that is akin to family structures of fathers that are superior to their children.

Parliament is not an ANC family house, Mbete must leave her silly Luthuli House antics out of the National Assembly and preside with sobriety over the house. The EFF is not the Youth League that they make to play merry-go-round in Luthuli House. The EFF is a fully fledged political party given a mandate to be in Parliament by over one million voters and Mbete must respect that and accept it. She unwittingly confirmed not only that she is unfit for the exercise of duties as the Speaker, she also unfortunately confirmed that the presence of women in leadership structures does not automatically mean that patriarchy will be challenged because some women get co-opted (even if temporarily) to the joys and privileges of patriarchy thus frustrating its dismantling.

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