The National Assembly hit a new low this week, after a Member of Parliament called the Democratic Alliance’s Phumzile van Damme a “straat meid” during a debate on the State of the Nation Address.
Just days earlier, the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance John Steenhuisen was subjected to a very audible “F*** You” from another Member of Parliament, moments before President Jacob Zuma delivered his State of the Nation Address.
The language that has now become prevalent in this Parliament is obviously unacceptable.
The fact that the Presiding officers in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces have not been able to deal with it is worse. That needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
In both instances mentioned above, the African National Congress was guilty. On both those occasions the mics happened to be on, so they were caught. However, there is absolutely no doubt that this type of discourse has manifested itself across the board and for a protracted period too.
The heckling is a problem, the foul language is clearly a problem and the blatant disregard for members who sit on the opposite end of the floor is a problem.
However, the greatest tragedy is the blatant unwillingness of South African lawmakers to work together. All parties in the South African Parliament have been guilty of this, to varying degrees.
It is does not help that the most influential members in those political parties set this tone, when they are the ones who should be engaging with each other.
The style of politics in some other English-speaking countries is hostile and aggressive. And that’s fine. In those countries it is all about winning and getting power. That is the only aim and goal.
However, South Africa’s situation is unique and heavily reliant on consensus, if any of the country’s objectives are to be achieved.
The leaders from the various parties have a critical role to play. The attacks must no longer be personal. Phrases like “this lot” and “that lot” need to be removed from the vocabulary of lawmakers.
Talk of “Planet Zuma” and “Broken Men” needs to end. It only fuels the flame…and people eventually fight fire with fire.
Robust debate is always encouraged. It is a must. But that is where it needs to end.
If members step out of line, the onus is on the leaders of parties to rein them him. Jackson Mthembu, who needs to take the lead on this, John Steenhuisen, Narend Singh, Floyd Shivambu and others need to work more closely than ever, to this end.
We are not at a point of no return yet, but we will be soon.