Cape Town-140821-The Sargeant-at-Arms tries to persuade an unrepentant Julius Malema to leave Parliament. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

With the EFF’s vocal presence in it’s hallowed halls, the ruling party can’t hide behind Parliament any longer, writes Dumisani Hlophe.

Parliament is an institution of political power contestation. While traditionally it is a law-making and oversight institution over the executive, the key players approach this as key battles of political power contestation.

Both the law-making processes, and the monitoring of the executive, are essentially instruments and processes of political power contestation.

However, both the rules and processes of law-making and oversight over the executive are also subject to power contestation over their validity.

The actions of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) since the beginning of this term of Parliament, indicates it is in Parliament to wage a power political battle.

Its key target, if not the only one, is the ANC.

In this regard, it has identified two crucial soft points: first, it is state President Jacob Zuma, mainly over the Nkandla over-spending. Secondly, it is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, over the Marikana massacre.

In both instances, the political battles are largely personal: both Zuma and Ramaphosa presided over the firing of EFF’s Julius Malema and company from the ANC.

While the EFF has developed a strategic plan for its battles against the ANC, the latter does not seem to have an engagement plan against the EFF.

Typical of established ruling parties; the ANC has become very comfortable, and conservative. In the typical myth that it “will govern until Jesus Christ returns”, the ANC has taken comfort in the fact that the UDM, and Cope have not grown to pose a challenge to the ANC.

Therefore, it assumes, the EFF will also die a natural death. The comfortable laurels in the ANC are that all parties that emerge to challenge the ANC, sooner or later, assume a natural death.

Therefore, sooner or later, the EFF will also die. Hence, the little concern in the ANC to contest the EFF’s political growth and challenge.

Suddenly, South Africa has two political pole positions: an arrogant conservative ruling ANC, on the one hand; and a raw abrasive EFF, on the other hand.

The DA is in the middle battling to find relevance both in terms of race, and policy direction.

The sum total of all this is that South Africa has a political leadership that suffers the poverty of a moral high ground.

Zuma’s possible moral high ground status is dented by the Nkandla debacle; Malema’s possible one is dented by tax evasion; and Zille’s potential moral high ground status is dented by rent-a-black politics.

These political shenanigans bedevilling all political parties play themselves throughout society.

Consequently, what happened at the national Parliament last week is a culmination of the status of political shenanigans that happen throughout society on a daily basis.

It is a culmination of the endless denialism by the security cluster on the Waterkloof military base landing by the Guptas; the Marikana denialism; and the Nkandla denialism championed by the security cluster, and the president’s evasive response.

It is the culmination of Malema’s bitterness for his expulsion from the ANC which has shaped the EFF’s state of opposition to the ANC.

All of this, landed on the shoulders of Baleka Mbete, who as Speaker of Parliament, battled to balance between being a parliamentary chair, and her party political role to protect Zuma as the ANC’s president, and distantly the state president.

In other words, Mbete was officially the chairwoman of the National Assembly, while actively being the chairwoman of the ANC. Faced with these two roles: Mbete chose the ANC role, protecting her party president and the ANC.

Unfortunately, she failed on both: while she ordered the EFF out of the National Assembly, she actually left the House; Zuma made an unconventional exit, followed by the ANC, and the rest of the MPs, minus the EFF MPs who remained inside.

Mbete ought to justifiably feel undone by her own political party. Her authority also dried as she called security to remove the EFF members, and no security implemented her instruction.

Even the police when they eventually got to Parliament, stopped ANC members from going back, rather than removing EFF members.

The ANC’s inability to strategise on how to politically engage and manage the EFF was, ultimately, left on the shoulders of Mbete.

Perhaps, it can be assumed, that both the parliamentary security, and the police, understood that Parliament is another site of party political power struggles.

Thus both these security institutions would not be drawn into party political squabbles in Parliament.

Perhaps the Western Cape police is aligned to the provincial ruling DA, and was not keen to come to the aid of the ANC leadership.

Or, it clearly understood that this was not a criminal act, but a political squabble. Therefore, it did not warrant its intervention.

The lesson for the ANC is simple: it cannot rely on state institutions to fight its political battles.

Nor use parliamentary positions to silence its political opponents.

The fact the EFF was expelled from Parliament did not end up as any disciplinary or criminal punishment.

The same is playing out with the Gauteng provincial legislature expulsion of EFF members.

These are political battles that require political engagement.

Thus far, the ANC has been useful in contributing to a growing hero status of the EFF. It is the case of Goliath and David respectively.

Political support is always passionate and favourable towards the underdog.

The ANC might inadvertently create a public impression that it is fearful of the EFF, hence, its resort to the usage of state institutions in dealing with the EFF.

Perhaps because the ANC has never been a minority in Parliament, it has not internalised the fact that Parliament is another site political power terrain struggle.

Well, it is! For years, the ANC has subconsciously relied on having powerful leaders in Parliament such as Nelson Mandela, and Thabo Mbeki. These were fierce debaters.

This cannot be said of the incumbent leader, Zuma.

He relies and requires ongoing protection of a much stronger collective ANC.

Parliament is a legitimate forum of party political power contestations.

The EFF has taken this war to the ANC. What the ANC needs is a political engagement strategy.

Resorting to rules, procedures, decorum, and parliamentary laws, will only project the ANC as “hiding behind” institutions and procedures rather than accounting to the acts of its leaders.

Parliament is not an ice cream van.

* Hlophe is a political analyst and head of programmes at Power98.7. Twitter – @KunjaloD

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

Sunday Independent