I watched the parliamentary debate on 17 February after many years of not watching that circus. I watched because I wanted to listen to the responses to President Jacob Zuma’s porous state of the (ANC) nation address taking into consideration scandal after scandal involving him and the ANC, the ubiquitous service delivery protests and foreign policy faux pas. However, Mr. Zuma deserves kudos for mentioning the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Onkgopotse Tiro and for having invited Tiro’s brother as a guest. It should not end there Mr. President. The killers of Tiro who are known must be brought to book because they never applied for amnesty at the Truth Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
All the political parties, including Azapo, the torch-bearers of black consciousness, failed to at least acknowledge that Mr. Zuma is the only President since 1994 to mention the assassination of Tiro in the national assembly. Azapo’s Member of Parliament, Mr. Jacob Dikobo should have acknowledged the mentioning of the assassination of Tiro in the state of the nation address. It would not have meant Azapo agreed with the state of the nation speech. Dikobo threw out the baby with the bath water. The PAC should have also acknowledged the mentioning of Tiro. But, alas, the PAC MP chose not to address parliament at all. Only God knows why. Or did I miss him? PAC founding President, Robert Sobukwe was mentioned twice, not by the PAC and not even by Azapo but by IFP leader and MP Mangosuthu Buthelezi and APC leader and MP Themba Godi.
Going back to the state of the nation address, I wonder if these politicians are aware the electorate is watching their shenanigans. I wonder what illiterate people make of these parliamentary debates. What about people without access to television sets? Or are these debates meant for the elite or the so-called middle class? They are some of those who are invited the day after the opening of parliament to the SABC-New Age breakfast banquet. One wonders what The Public Protector’s report said about those SABC-New Age banquets and about Motsweding Fm Station Manager in Mafikeng, Sibongile Mtyali ,who was exposed as corrupt in a series of Daily Sun articles but is still retained by Auckland Park, thanks to Hlaudi Motsweneng. Some of these politicians yell at each other in the glare of the television cameras but at the end of the month they go all the way to the bank laughing to cash their fat cheques. They greet each other nicely in the bank queues and sip expensive whiskies together during weekends.
The first politician to speak was Minister of Education Blade Nzimande who, amidst his presentation, took a swipe at the IFP Buthelezi and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa when they had said absolutely nothing. He said they were only concerned with Mangosuthu Technikon in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the University of Transkei or Walter Sisulu University respectively. In his reply, Buthelezi retorted that he didn’t know what Nzimande was talking about because he was once a lecturer at Mangosuthu Technikon. Holomisa on his part spoke in Xhosa that he once helped Nzimande obtain a driver’s license in the Homeland of the Transkei and asked Nzimande, “am I lying”?
It is normal and acceptable in this country for a Cabinet Minister to undermine Members of Parliament in a partisan way and defend his/her party from criticism of the state of the nation address by the opposition as was the case during this state of nation debate on 18 February 2014 and the previous parliamentary sittings. A Cabinet Minister is a Minister of State and an MP is a people’s representative. Just like an MP who is elected, Speaker of Parliament is required to abandon his party loyalty and be non-partisan, Ministers of State are also supposed to abandon their party loyalty and be non-partisan. By the same token, once an MP is appointed a Minister of State or Cabinet Minister he should abandon his/her loyalty to his/her party and serve the country.
The rationale behind this line of thinking is that Cabinet Ministers are answerable to parliament and the custodians of parliament are Members of Parliament. Consequently, Ministers of state should account to the people’s representatives who are Members of Parliament. It should not matter whether or not a certain Cabinet Ministers loathes a particular MP. If the ruling party feels the opposition needs to be challenged, then MP’s from the ruling party are there to challenge MP’s from the opposition benches, not Cabinet Ministers. That is why political parties should appoint educated or learned MP’s who can engage in constructive debates and not bumbling yahoos and voting cattle who are always in slumber land during debates only to wake up when it is time to vote.
What is more important is to make sure that there is no conflation of the ruling party and the state. If Cabinet Ministers speak in Parliament as ANC MP’s then they are conflating the state and the ruling party and that is unconstitutional and unacceptable. Not only is it unacceptable but it also makes a mockery of democracy. If this country’s constitution allows partisanship among Ministers of State then the drafters of this country’s constitution should go back to the drawing boards and amend it. If not then it should be acceptable for other civil servants like police and army officers to publicly take political stances and criticize political parties which they do not belong and those who belong to the ruling party should defend it …and let us see where this would lead to.
There was nothing in the President’s speech about the threat Africom poses to the African continent and no political party raised this issue. There is also no political party that included Africom threat in its manifesto, not even the PAC, the torch-bearers of Pan Africanism. Does this mean the PAC is led by paper tigers? The Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, whom the South African government helped to overthrow by voting in favour of UN Resolution 1973 that declared a no-fly zone over Libya which ultimately led to his overthrow and assassination, had expended his country’s resources in blocking the setting up of Africom military bases on the African continent.
Finally, we can scream until we become green about funding for education but as long as we don’t talk about the quality of education we offer our children, we might as well keep quiet. Why are the books relevant to the conditions of the continent not prescribed? There are many books, which must be made compulsory reading in schools, colleges and universities, by and about African authors. Keeping the African people ignorant by presenting state of nation addresses that conceal the truth will one day backfire.
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).