Parliament diary: Revolutionaries and rhinos

Rhodes>Perspective>2014 Archive

Calm, of a sort, appeared to have returned to Parliament's National Assembly
on Tuesday, following the drama almost a fortnight ago which saw riot police
called in to expel members of the Economic Freedom Fighters who refused to
leave the House after demanding to know when President Jacob Zuma would pay
back the money he owes for Nkandla. Speaker Baleka Mbete confirmed that the
matter would be left to Parliament's Powers and Privileges Committee to
resolve, but there was no sign that the Fighters were feeling daunted. By

Tuesday was supposed to see an unremarkable plenary sitting of the National
Assembly. A debate on the plight of the rhinos was scheduled: surely one
issue, at least, that political parties were unlikely to come to blows over.
But even before proceedings kicked off, there were subtle reminders of 21
August's events on the periphery: a smattering of (non-riot) police
stationed outside the House; and seemingly stricter regulations than normal
governing access to the Press Gallery.

The man who caused all the trouble last time, Commander-in-Chief Julius
Malema, was nowhere to be seen. His fellow fighters were there to carry the
revolutionary gauntlet, though the hard hats weren't in appearance.

Speaker of the House Baleka Mbete, with whom the EFF tussled, had been
expected to call for the suspension of the party's MPs at this sitting -
though legal expert Pierre de Vos has pointed out that according to
Parliamentary rules Mbete only had the power to suspend them immediately,
not after the fact.

The EFF had warned that if this were to be the case, they would call for an urgent high court

interdict to prevent their suspension. Mbete opted instead to turn the matter over to
Parliament's Powers and Privileges Committee, which met for the first time
on Monday and will take five days to deal with the matter, going through
video evidence and transcripts.

The committee's meetings are closed both to the public and the media, but
its findings will be made public at the end.

The EFF seems to view Mbete's decision to leave things to the committee as a
vindication, but the Speaker was in a stern mood on Tuesday when she opened
proceedings. She could have suspended the MPs immediately, she reminded the
House, but had opted for a "lesser sanction". Despite this lenience, she
called the EFF's shenanigans "unprecedented in the history of this
democratic Parliament", saying that if MPs were dissatisfied with the
president's response to questions, there were "mechanisms" that could be

Apparently seeking to allay concerns that the calling of the riot police was
unconstitutional, Mbete said that Parliament "[would] continue to maintain
its independence", and that security had to be called when MPs refused to
leave the chamber in "complete and open defiance".

A situation where rules were not observed, Mbete said, was "tantamount to

She had barely finished speaking before the EFF's Floyd Shivambu was on his
feet demanding the right to reply. Mbete refused, saying that she did not
intend her statement to be a matter for response. Shivambu still managed to
get out that he objected to her making "these conclusive remarks" about the

"You are not God," Shivambu said. "You are a Speaker who must be questioned
when you make wrong statements." The EFF has repeatedly indicated that they
have no faith in the Speaker or other Parliament functionaries to maintain a
truly neutral line, as opposed to following ANC edicts.

And then the business of the National Assembly resumed its normal dry
qualities - but there was no sense that the Freedom Fighters had resolved to
keep their heads down. The EFF announced it wanted to debate the effects of
genetically modified food; conditions for farmworkers; the question of
whether public servants should have to use public services; and a possible
link between mining and earthquakes - a matter they mentioned separately
twice in the same setting.

EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi also rose on a motion without notice to
propose that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should be congratulated on
his election as SADC chair, and that South Africa should take cognizance of
Mugabe's  statement last week that South Africa's ability to lead the AU was
compromised by its reliance on white capital.

The DA objected that "controversial" matters of this kind could not be
raised without notice, and the matter was swept aside.

The DA's Mmusi Maimane welcomed last week's Supreme Court of Appeal ruling
that the Zuma spy tapes should be released to the DA, saying it was evidence
that nobody was above the law. The EFF then said something remarkably
similar about the Public Protector, condemning attacks on Thuli Madonsela
and saying that her work must be allowed to proceed in order to prove that
those in power could be held accountable.

The EFF also accused the ANC of being in thrall to a "cult of personality"
where Zuma is concerned, which many will find slightly funny coming from a
party often charged with the very same.

But the Speaker was in no mood for any more Zuma-bashing. When a COPE MP
rose to quote Zuma as saying that the ANC was "more important than the
Constitution", as he allegedly did in 1996, explaining the ANC's decision to
remove Mosiuoa Lekota as Free State Premier, she attempted to move on to a
condemnation of Nkandla but was cut short. The President could not be
criticised through this sort of statement, Mbete said: "You must come with a
well-researched, substantive offering".

With Mbete seeking statements from ministers only, EFF spokesman Ndlozi
again rose to attempt to speak. "You are not a minister," Mbete reminded him

"Not yet," Ndlozi shot back - but he didn't get his way.

And then, finally, matters moved on to the poor rhinos.

There was reasonable consensus among political parties on the basics
regarding rhino conservation: that poaching endangers the economy through
losses to tourism; that the rhino has both symbolic and conservational
significance to South Africa; that communities living around game parks need
to be better educated; and that more resources need to be expended bringing
poaching kingpins to book as well as the poachers on the ground.

"It's rhinos today; it could be lions tomorrow," more than one MP warned.

Lyrical tributes to the species possibly reached their peak when ACDP MP
Cheryllyn Dudley referred to baby rhinos as "enchanting, with their soft
muzzles" before mercifully running out of time.

But even rhinos, it emerges, provide opportunities for factional fighting.
The ACDP's Dudley claimed credit was due to the party for first drawing
attention to the problem. Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa later
accused her of being "like a cock crowing and taking credit for the

The DA's Terri Stander, meanwhile, accused government ministers of
"whin[ing] like spoiled children" about the rhino problem without taking
proper responsibility. Stander said that gathering and analysing
intelligence on rhino poaching was particularly poor. Brandishing a piece of
paper, she asked: "Why is it that I can have a list of 72 suspected poachers
in my hands, but not one of these have been properly investigated, let alone

The ANC's Jackson Mthembu, acting as sweeper for the debate, got one back in
his conclusion: "If Honourable Stander has 72 names of suspects," he said,
"I wonder if she's not part of the syndicate?"

Welcome to Parliamentary discourse.

Yet it was the EFF, as is becoming routine, who staked out the most distinct
position on the matter, with Andile Mngxitama saying that part of the
problem was that "Europe has eaten all of [Africa's] animals".

There was an untenable contradiction between saying 'save the rhino' on the
one hand, and supporting capitalism on the other, Mngxitama contended.
Rhinos have become a commodity and "cannot be protected under an economic
system driven by profit and greed". He condemned the shoot to kill approach
to poachers driven by economic need: syndicates, he said, "rely on the
desperately poor as their foot soldiers". The conditions of people living
around game parks should be the government's first priority, Mngxitama said.
"The only strategy that will protect the rhino is one that puts people
before the rhino".

And then he seamlessly segued to his conclusion: that the use of public
order policing in Parliament undermines the state's separation of powers and
is an attempt to intimidate the EFF.

If so, there's little sign it's working. DM

Article by: Rebecca Davis.

Article Source: The Daily Maverick.