Cape Town-130406-South African National Defence Force and family members attend the funeral of Vusumzi Ngaleka in Khayelitsha, who was killed in combat in the Central African Republic. Reporter: Soyisa Maliti, Photo: Ross Jansen
Cape Town-130406-South African National Defence Force and family members attend the funeral of Vusumzi Ngaleka in Khayelitsha, who was killed in combat in the Central African Republic. Reporter: Soyisa Maliti, Photo: Ross Jansen

Parly’s CAR meeting an unfunny farce

By Eusebius McKaiser Time of article published Apr 8, 2013

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Any voter who cares about parliament doing its job properly would wonder whether to vote for the ANC after Thursday’s shocking joint standing committee on defence meeting on the deployment of the SANDF to the Central African Republic.

There was an Orwellian attempt by ANC members on the committee to prevent their political principal, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, from being held fully accountable for our mission in the CAR.

Here are some of the undemocratic lowlights.

The chairman, Jerome Maake, displayed a tragicomic inability to grasp his role.

Obviously acceptable questions, such as whether or not there are non-military assets that were being protected by our soldiers, were oddly regarded as impermissible. Maake even saw fit to answer questions on the minister’s behalf.

He was intoxicated with merely having discretionary power rather than displaying a magisterial ability to use it rationally and impartially.

The words “chairperson” and “lackey” are not meant to be synonymous.

Every five minutes, Maake would bizarrely defer to any “old” person in the room for a random interpretation on a serious procedural matter, such as whether to halt the committee meeting at 2.30pm or to allow it to continue for a few hours longer.

He seemed tempted, on this issue, by the desire of some MPs to catch early flights.

Was it not obvious that a full discussion on the CAR is more important than MPs rushing to be asked by a flight attendant, “chicken or horse?”.

Such was the comedy of the chairman’s errors. He obstructed Parliament’s role of holding the cabinet accountable for its actions. It truly was political satire at its best. Except it’s not funny.

Thirteen soldiers are dead. Many more family members will grieve for a lifetime while politicians stress about catching flights.

But the real low point was yet to come. So David Maynier, the DA’s spokesman on defence, stands up and accuses the government of lying.

My goodness, the excitement that it caused! It was as if he had stood up and shouted at the top of his lungs: “Jou ma se ****!” (“Your mother’s ****!”)

Objections flowed like champagne at an elective conference.

Frankly, I was surprised a loyal comrade did not suggest hanging the tjatjarag Maynier on the spot for treason.

Here is the scary part of what took place in that moment. It is depressing to know that ANC politicians can think it is legally or morally or politically wrong or offensive to dare to even claim that the government can lie.

Remember, Maynier did not yet give evidence for his claim at that point in the proceedings. He merely asserted the claim.

So they were objecting to the assertion being made at all. They were not interested in evidence.

The subtext of the anger was clear: “How DARE you claim that our perfect, virtuous, beloved, incapable-of-lying ANC government lied?”

That shows a deep disdain for our deliberative democracy. Deliberative democracy requires actively listening and engaging the evidence and logic behind a political opponent’s claims about your government. The ANC MPs were not interested in deliberative democracy on Thursday.

Eventually, after calling Maynier a “naughty child”, the chairman allowed him to substantiate. Maynier restarted his effort by saying something to the effect that “I am thinking of the 13 soldiers… ”

Immediately he was interrupted and censured again! No, no, sir! We want just the evidence.

Thou shalt not empathise with fallen soldiers! Down with empathy from the opposition benches… down! Much better material for matric exams than Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

And so the farce continued. All the while, the unanswered questions stacked up. And time ran out, conveniently. Another minister can breathe a little more easily. Protected nicely by ANC MPs who account to the Luthuli House deployment committee members rather than to constituencies.

All of this raises urgent questions. Why do opposition parties squander so many opportunities to steal the megalomaniacs’ thunder? This is but one example of habitual abuse of parliamentary process on the part of the ANC.

And yet opposition parties don’t get a full return on the political capital they invest in these issues.

They need to stop being averse to criticism (often worse than the ruling alliance in fact) and do some soul searching. They should come out of ANC low points like this one much stronger. And yet they often don’t. They should ask themselves why that is so and avoid lazily concluding that it is because voters are irrational creatures.

There is a more horrid question, in the first place, that I am left with, though. Why do so many freedom fighters go berserk the morning after democracy’s birth?

* Eusebius McKaiser is author of A Bantu in My Bathroom, a collection of essays about race, sexuality and other uncomfortable South African topics.

The Star

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