Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, including EFF Gauteng leader Mcgini Tshwaku, are removed from the provincial legislature chamber for inappropriate attire and unruly behaviour. The writer says the debate about what can be said or worn must not be limited to what goes on inside houses of legislature. Photo: Itumeleng English

The advent of the EFF in Parliament and provincial legislatures in its ‘odd attire’ presents a chance to debate acceptable standards as we do not have any, writes Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Pretoria - How is it that a country that is happy to have kids aged 18 and a day, who walk around the streets drinking alcohol with their underpants exposed suddenly have high standards of decorum when its representatives go to “The House”?

The arrival of the Economic Freedom Fighters in various legislatures has raised debate about what can be said or worn by members of those lawmaking houses.

I am not sure if it has done what I hope it would – to make us reflect on whether we demand of politicians to live by morals and standards different from those of their constituencies.

While what goes on in Parliament is a source of enormous entertainment and fodder for media professionals, we have to remember that most of life is lived outside Parliament.

To have rules of what ultimately is civil engagement with opponents that do not exist anywhere else, smacks of asking honourable members to live Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde lives where everything goes once they step out of Parliament and by other rules once they cross a certain door.

It is no figure of speech to say MPs are public representatives.

If they represent a society that has no common values and does not care that it does not, we are frankly asking too much of them to agree whether it is permissible to wear gumboots and overalls or, for that matter, why they even wear suits and ties in the House.

MPs and their constituencies must work hard at facing the rot in their societies, and speak out against them and not only raise our temperatures when the same things happening in their constituencies are suddenly seen in Parliament.

I am mindful that it is difficult to make the argument I am making without coming across as advocating for an Orwellian type of state where someone somewhere determines how individuals should live their lives.

I am also aware that you dear reader might be asking: “Whose morals; whose values?” And that is the point.

There is an incorrect assumption that leading individual lives with own peculiar taste idiosyncrasies is at odds with appreciating that there is indeed such a thing as societal common values.

Some even go as far as to wrongly argue that those who advocate a good code of behaviour advocate for a religious state or seek to impose colonial standards.

One of the worst excuses I hear is to defer to the constitution as if a society’s sense of right or wrong is governed solely by what is constitutionally valid.

There is no law that states how people should wear their pants.

The law says anyone who has had an 18th birthday is free to drink alcohol, yet there are many who do not wish this on their 18-year-old “babies”.

I do not know of any functional community, organisation or even state that has not been able to coalesce around some set of values.

Where a people have none, you end up with a free-for-all, wrongly referred to as the law of the jungle, although even there the animals observe some rules, including the hierarchical order of who feasts first.

The net effect of a lack of defined norms and standards is that we have become a people without a sense of occasion, as marked by calling the wearing of gumboots and overalls in Parliament a political principle.

We become a people who see it as normal that young women see no wrong in gyrating in sexually suggestive ways at a graveside while the bereaved family mourn their loved one while young boys spin cars and fire guns aimlessly.

For fear of being labelled a Mother Grundy, we bury our heads in the sand and do not tell those who misrepresent our society and harm the moral fabric what we think.

We have become cowards afraid to call things plain, old-fashioned “wrong” because we fear that intellectuals and the political among us will use fancy words whose effect is to demand that we apologise to those who may feel offended.

The debate about what can be said or worn must therefore not be limited to what goes on inside houses of legislature; it has opened a window for a much needed-discussion.

We must be careful not to waste the moment by making it about politicians instead of making it about our own neighbourhoods.

* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an executive editor at the Pretoria News. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom

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