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‘Marikana’ in Parliament

Lifestyle Section - Opinion

  On August 16 2012, a hail of bullets poured into a group of striking miners on a koppie at Marikana, and  minutes later 34 people lay dead, and another 78 injured. These  gunshots still echo around South Africa, most recently last Friday, when the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into what became known as the Marikana Massacre drew to a close, after the various counsels presented their closing arguments.

Just the day before, the House of Assembly descended into chaos when the report of the Parliamentary ad-hoc committee of inquiry into Nkandla was presented to the House, absolving Jacob Zuma of any blame in the expenditure of R260 million on his private estate in KwaZulu-Natal, for so-called “security upgrades.”.

The parliamentary protection service and the SAPS were eventually called in to physically remove a member from the House who had disregarded repeated requests from the Sergeant at Arms to leave the House, because of her unruly behaviour.

A number of MPs were allegedly manhandled by police, and it is also alleged that one or more members of the police contingent were injured in the ensuing fracas.

At the press briefing the next day, speaker Baleka Mbete made it clear such behaviour would not be tolerated, noting that since the first sitting of the current Parliament five months ago, the general level of unruliness, preceded by a stated intention to disregard the rules of Parliament, had become progressively worse.

She defended the decision to call in the police to restore order, noting that the presiding officers had acted within the law in so doing.

Ms Mbete argued further that the sanctity and probity of Parliament must at all costs be protected, and that all members had undertaken to observe the rules of Parliament when they were sworn in. She further noted, that if any member felt that any of the rules in question should be amended, then there were channels to follow to effect such change.

But what use is there in pursuing the implementation of such changes, if the committee which deliberates on such matters is dominated by the ruling party?

In similar vein, what was the perceived point in participating in an and-hoc committee into Nkandla that was dominated by the ruling party, and which steadfastly refused to summon Jacob Zuma to appear before that committee?

A committee that despite the withdrawal of all opposition parties in protest over the partiality of the majority of members of said committee, proceeded with its mandate because “it had a quorum”.

The opposition has consistently demanded that Jacob Zuma appear before the House to answer questions, which he is obliged to do four times each year, and although the Speaker has the power to insist that he do so, Ms Mbete has simply ignored these legitimate demands, which makes her contention on Friday that being simultaneously ANC chairperson and Speaker of the House does not constitute a conflict of interests, little more than laughable.

And what if anything does this have to do with the Marikana Massacre? Simply this.

The miners who went on the rampage at Marikana were frustrated beyond measure.

For months they had through their legitimate structures, advanced their grievances and demands over wages and conditions of employment to their employer, with little result.

When they acted, they acted out of desperation, because no matter what they did within the framework of the law, they were not being heeded.

The whitewashing that the ad-hoc parliamentary committee of inquiry into Nkandla perpetrated, despite the Public Protector’s report which clearly fingered Jacob Zuma, was the final straw for the frustrated opposition, which has steadfastly accused the ANC and the Speaker of protecting Jacob Zuma.

As much as the fatal confrontation that played out on that koppie at Marikana was borne out of utter frustration, so too was it the case on Thursday night.

What happened sets a dangerous precedent, that places the social contract upon which the institution of Parliament relies, under threat.

Without this social contract, that despite significant political differences the members of the House will conduct themselves within a framework of rules, the very institution itself is under threat.

But for every finger that the ANC and Baleka Mbete points at the opposition MPs who were involved in the fracas on Thursday night, they ought also to point a finger at themselves, for the role their manifest partiality has played in precipitating this crisis.

Written by Norman McFarlane You are reading ‘Marikana’ in Parliament articles

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