Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and Former Head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and Former Head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Save SA politics from beer hall brawlers

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 11, 2021

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THE MERRIAM-WEBSETER dictionary describes an idiot as a stupid person.

In May 2018, Cope leader Willie Madisha had an entertaining exchange with then Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete.

Madisha asserted that half of the people in Parliament were stupid. Naturally, Mbete was not impressed and ordered Madisha to withdraw the statement. But what Madisha applied instead was a mathematical set notation referred to as a compliment of the universe.

If half of Parliament is not stupid, then the other half is stupid. Paradoxically, Mbete was pleased by the answer, perhaps affirming Madisha’s point.

US wartime president Harry Truman once said: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa summed it all up when he said “at times parliamentary debates bear no difference from those of a beer hall”.

While these statements have a lot of entertainment value, they are very profound and serious when the events leading to Nkandla last weekend are taken into account.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, in the next census in 2022, Statistician General Risenga Maluleke may wish to include questions relating to experiences, knowledge and understanding of what and who an idiot is.

In 1865, the Cape Colony Census asked questions about the deaf and dumb, lunatics and idiots.

The Google Ngram Viewer shows that from 1500 the term idiot featured globally, the world had serious mummers about idiots during the century. This subsided into near oblivion in the 1700s but rose to the level of recognition that it was included as a subject in the Cape Colony Census.

Idiots can be very destructive when given power. If the descent on Nkandla last weekend and the near silence of the ruling party regarding these events at the height of a pandemic are anything to go by, we are waking up to a real beer hall or a whorehouse with indecent metaphorical pornographic display.

But idiots can be useful as they can make us read and study our Constitution with an understanding to ensure that we add the right half to the one that is not stupid in our Parliament.

For the next 27 years, every child starting school must use the Constitution as their companion so that they cannot be ruled by those who pledge allegiance to something they know nothing about.

We must salvage ourselves from idiots and oust the stupid half in Parliament so that politics are distinctly different from a beer hall or a whorehouse.

This will ensure that constitutional democracy can be worthy of its name and deliver material benefits to the populace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and Former Head of Statistics South Africa.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

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