- By Gabriella Razzano
How quick social media began to broadcast the siren weeping of the pallbearers bearing the coffin of democracy last night. On Facebook and Twitter we wept about the deconsecrating of Parliament by the EFF protest at the 2015 State of the Nation address. Spending 3 years in law school does seem to drill in to it you an almost irrational love of institutions of democracy (who hasn’t done a Parliament selfie?), but our knee jerk emotional response needs to be ignored while we try and examine the changing face of South African politics.
At the heart, I do believe it is a tragic day when Parliament becomes a playground rather than a hallowed ground of a democratic state – but yesterday was not the day it happened. Yesterday, when the President took the podium to begin SONA, he did so making a great deal of effort to look unaffected. Perhaps he was. I described it to one friend as “trying to look like a lion swatting its tail at flies”. He seemed not to recognise, of course, that he had lost. Well, at least Parliament had. Calling in SAPS again made a tragically obvious show of the fact that the South African Parliament is the house of the President, rather than a check against total Presidential power. Of course it was the State of the Nation address, but let us not forget it is the same house that has failed to call the President to account for gross abuse of state funds.
And there in lies the rub – when did calls for decorum become more important the calls for fundamental justice and fairness? When did the substance behind our democratic institutions become less important than the prettiness of their face? Very quickly one man’s call for rules can become another man’s shackles.
I would suggest that the reason why the behaviour of the EFF in Parliament continues to garner support is because people see no need to keep sacred an institution that doesn’t serve them. Of course, for the people it does serve it is a different story. But the ANC should be cautious of treating Parliament, as it’s Mount Olympus.
Why is Parliament important? It is the source of the laws that express our rule of law. It is also vital as a check and balance for political power. And that is so obviously where it fails. It is not the house the President built – it is the house the Constitution built. And it when it refuses to contain Presidential abuse of the state through corruption, it fails to live up to its constitutional roots. It has ignored the needs of the South African public. It is unsurprising then that the public may not then want to rise up in honour of maintaining the dignity it has already shed itself.
So, not unusually, democratic concepts begin to be abused by those in power to maintain power like a deranged and clingy Gollum. And the way this is done is through focusing on the form of democracy, rather than its substance. I want to see a Parliament that upholds democracy. We need to explore post critically how Parliament can begin to redeem its own sanctity. We need to fight for the substance of that Parliament. The Constitution created it within a vision of what democracy should be.
Democracy might not be dead, but she is a little bruised. And calls by those in power to leave her alone seem a little bit misplaced when they are the one’s who tripped her down the stairs.