Is Shenge, emerging into the elder statesman of parliament?

The history of the IFP and its chequered role during the apartheid era, remains one with many shades of question. Depending on where you stand we know history is often rewritten by those who believe history a tool for managing. So the proverbial jury is still out on the violence of another era generally accredited to the IFP account and immanent in claim of black on black violence.

When it comes to the IFP it all depends on which side of the spectrum you find yourself. Its history as communicated by its leader is interpreted as liberating a role, yet from the other side it would echo a vehement remonstration in claims of incriminating and a violence based role.

However whilst we may never agree to that history in sanguinity of honesty, one thing is certain nobody more identifies or embodies that IFP history than Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Formerly known as Chief Gathsa Buthelezi. He is affectionately called by clan name of Shenge.

Buthelezi has emerged in this season in an avuncular sense as the elder statesman in parliament.

We have heard of conversations Buthelezi and Mandela shared in which mutual respect was claimed, so much that Buthelezi even served in Mandela’s cabinet. We equally know of times of grave disagreement between the two. Yet when Shenge talks of Madiba it is with a sense of deep friendship, brotherhood, love and closeness of proximity, though some protest against this as manufactured.

I must make my disclaimer upfront I hold no brief for Chief Buthelezi and must admit I wrestled long to come to terms with his historic role in our pursuit to liberation. The closest I came to him was when I worked as a member of the National Task Team assigned to design a national communications strategy for the first democratic municipal elections of 1995. Whilst our task was national I chose to make the Eastern Cape home because there were serious challenges to get the traditional leadership of CONTRALESA and others on board to secure their commitment to the registration process. We spent hours on end in places like the Savoy Hotel in Mthatha convincing in attempt at convincing Traditional leadership to endorse voter registration and education. Ultimately after much, negotiations we secured their buy in for the voter registration initiative. I remember paying Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana at his homestead a personal visit to discuss on the need for voter registration. During my investigations in many of the Eastern Cape rural towns like Mt. Ailif, Bizana, Flagstaff, Libode etc, I found the challenge of and absence of identity documents as a major a stumbling block to our assignment.

I felt obliged to share my discovery with the late Cadre Peter Mokaba in supplying him video recordings of this my discovery. Mokaba in turn shared this with Madiba whom I was told had been very upset and summoned Buthelezi the Minister of Home Affairs to explain why the Department was lagging so far behind on the subject. In the end the release of identity documents were fast tracked. I am not sure how the conversation had gone yet I can confirm Mokaba told me Madiba read Shenge the riot act. That was the closest I had come to Buthelezi. (Needless to say I never informed my seniors how Mokaba got hold of the tapes).

Well Madiba retired after one term now many years ago, not only did he retire but he left these shores to enrol at the heavenly desk of the ANC as he quipped, yet Shenge is continuing still as IFP leader and a very active member of parliament at the ripe age of 87.

What is interesting is how the stature of Buthelezi as an individual has grown in leaps and bounds particularly this during a time when his party has profusely declined, even with a ever dwindling support in trust of ballot. It seems an undeniable contradiction that he has emerged in such prominence.

What is indisputable is in an era where parliament has become a comedy of errors, and a proverbial kindergarten of political campaigning one figure has emerged as sensible, balanced tasked to save the day. He has assumed an almost symbolic elder statesman of the house. It is none other than Shenge. I wonder what Madiba would have made of this.

It is not difficult to see that Shenge has in a sense become the voice of reason in parliament. Shenge has not once but on many occasions saved the day for parliament’s business to continue when stalemates showed. When the EFF kindergarten, in red overalls decide to act up in disrespect of parliament it is Shenge the elder statesman that invokes an authority that brings a sense of order. When the Speaker of Parliament proves in proverbial sixes-and-sevens as to how to handle the rowdy ones of parliament Shenge rises in the house to help with order. He has emerged as the moral identity of parliament. This is far cry from the claims of warlord, violence driven leader that most of us have come to know the IFP in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

What is interesting is that when Shenge rises to speak he is seldom challenged particularly if it is about the business of parliament. Generally fellow members of parliament informed by their various ideological stances may not agree with him yet they accord him the status. One is not sure if its pure age for at 87 he warrants respect. Again one is not sure if this is a natural occurrence of an act deeply rooted in the traditional cultural context of respect for the elders that Shenge has emerged as the epitome of respect. It is commonly accepted that the Zuma presidency has brought a traditional cultural dimension that perhaps by default has assisted this respect for Shenge. One thing is certain Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has become a voice of reason and has proven protective of the house as a dignified institution.

What is noteworthy is that unlike most vocal opposition parties the IFP has very seldom threatened legal action against the ANC in parliament majority or its leader as president, something common for the likes of the DA, EFF, COPE and the UDM. In fact at the unveiling of the Madiba statue at the Union Buildings in his speech Shenge referred to the ANC and SA President as Comrade Zuma with shouts or viva comrade president Zuma.

Is this the remake of the Buthelezi into the elder statesman perhaps so desperately needed in the House! What does it mean if Shenge appears to have has eclipsed his IFP history to commands respect in this era?

Clyde N. S.Ramalaine
Independent Observer

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SONA 2016: Opposition obsession with Zuma does not serve democracy!

SONA 2016 has come and is gone. As have become usual in our modern history the essence and important aspects of this constitutional moment is always lost in the sideshows and cheap claims of the Opposition. Imperative aspects were addressed among which the economy rightfully featured strong. Yet our opposition party leaders as interviewed annually on SABC prove so predictable, where they would simply not pause and attempt any form of objectivity. In fact objectivity for our opposition parties constitute a dreaded disease to be avoided at all and any cost.

Opposition parties in a democratic society are necessary and have a huge role to play. Their individual and collective relevance regardless to size is informed by the value they bring to the daily aspects of governance as a fundamental and practical reality.

Opposition parties are important because they help with the equilibrium of political power and therefore can also articulate the voices of minorities, which in a democracy is celebrated. Opposition parties are essential because they need to keep the governing party in check, and show out the glaring challenges and inconsistencies between promises and failed promises.

Yet opposition parties are more essential because they like all must put the national interest at the centre of their policies, politics and the practical reality of every day life. Opposition parties are crucial for they must show they have a clearly articulated vision and plan for the broader society, should they be occasioned in trust of ballot to govern.

In South Africa, our Opposition are poor, poor in their actual role of having an alternate. Opposition parties in South Africa are denying us the opportunity of proper choice because our opposition parties are obsessed with individuals and less with policy or programme. For the last 3 years the sum total of the opposition politics has centred on removing Jacob Zuma. They have abandoned all plausible efficacy of their own manifestos for their new primary objective. The problem with this mind-set is that it fundamentally robs them from due engagement of the issues of governance and giving any credence to what they really stand for.

 

In the aftermath of the 2016 SONA, this challenge in our opposition politics is proven paramount. The SONA is a constitutional imperative affording the citizenry of the country an opportunity to have the executive account for its governance, foresight, future planning and leadership. The SONA takes place in parliament as a joint sitting comprising of both members of parliament and the NCOP (National Council of Provinces). It is a formal, and dignified event, that sees former leaders of State and a crossbreed of society including schoolchildren invited to attend this auspicious moment. Secondly the SONA is presided over by the Speaker of Parliament supported by the chairperson of the NCOP, who rules the siting in accordance with the afforded mandate. Thus a denial of letting the SONA take place poses a threat to the very democracy the Opposition believes their inalienable custodian right.

The rules for the conducting of the SONA, is self-evident. The incumbent in his/ her position of being president is afforded time to deliver his report unencumbered and uninterrupted since the engaging of what was presented has a due platform a week after the SONA when all members of parliament are given their democratic right and opportunity to argue, debate, reject, accuse and engage the SONA and even he/she who delivered it.

I have elsewhere contended, the DA under Helen Zille, and her combination of younger handpicked leaders evidenced in Lindiwe Mazibuko and now Mmusi Maimane have fallen for the same trap of a Zuma obsession. Every articulation of the DA leader Maimane is centred on Jacob Zuma. I have not heard any coherent argument of the current DA leader on a future for SA devoid of his favourite pet subject Zuma. Maimane is on record for now moving for impeachment. It is as if the opposition parties are in a singular contest as to who can make Zuma fall. The DA is often finding itself undone in leading as official opposition party when the boisterous Malema usurps their status and reduce them to toothless bystanders who even at times have to sing the songs of the EFF.

The unofficial opposition, the EFF explains all its actions in a rightful claim of a right of representation of its constituency in parliament yet that right is primarily exercised in total disregard to others who share an equal right as made possible by the national ballot. The EFF has consistently made it clear it will campaign anywhere, anytime and if such campaigning obliterates the functionality of parliament it is immaterial for all that matters is their 6% right to be heard.

The EFF has shown disregard for the institution of a parliament and is given to disrupt as a means of drawing attention and capturing the moment in the limelight. It cannot be that the EFF takes serious its constituency for it has scant regard for the functionality of parliament. We must ask how is democracy served and entrenched with this behaviour?

I have elsewhere contended that the EFF in its ontological essence remains trapped in its historic obsession with the sitting ANC and SA president and is held carceral to the toxic antithetical twin-personalities of Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema. Such that when either of the two must leave the political scene the relevance of this party will be made obsolete.

It is a given that the EFF remains thin on policies, very light on solutions for the post modern society challenges that manifests in a plethora of manifold senses. Yet the EFF is very loud in populist rhetoric fuelled by an emotional unsustainable claim of speaking on behalf of the SA youth, a youth that rightly deserves better.

Not to be undone COPE’s Leader Mosiua Lekota joined the EFF led disruption orchestra for his moment in the limelight. Lekota’s views are his democratic right and he has a right to articulate them, yet he has opted to use the SONA to contest for his moment in the SABC media limelight thereafter staging a walk out. Therefore saying the SONA is not worth any respect, because he does not respect the man in the office of the presidency. This gross misunderstanding of the presidency as an institution in democracy and the incumbent of such office is a convenient conflated phenomenon in our daily opposition politics.

What is wrong with our opposition parties is not a right to capitalise on the many blunders an even at times arrogance the leading party has shown, but an utter lack of the primary focus to take us as South Africans into their confidence as to meaningful solutions for this country.

It simply makes no sense to talk about jobs when you do not present original and authentic solutions for such jobs crises. The DA has been harping on jobs yet its very axis for solutions for jobs rests on the very same EPWP diaphragm that the ANC has now entrenched.

In conclusion, can the opposition parties tell us what would be their relevance beyond Zuma. Can they please tell us why they feel it their right to pretend they can choose for the ANC its leadership? Can opposition parties tell us what is their collective relevance in fixing SA’s many challenges and anomalies?

Can they focus on what they want to sell us as their concrete proposals for dealing with SA in a global context of economic contraction for developing economies? Can we have less noise, attention seeking, false campaigning, insults, abuse and more substance that can convince the SA citizenry they are fit to govern.

Until now opposition parties have collectively failed to convince the SA constituency to trust them in ballot as having a concrete plan for this country. Until now they have mastered the art of being oppositional and failed the litmus test of putting SA first. Thus the state of opposition politics is below standard.

 

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine

Independent observer