27 Aug 2014 | Tony Leon | The Times
Since there are very few clean hands in the chaotic scenes from parliament on Thursday, when the Economic Freedom Fighters disrupted President Jacob Zuma's question time, we can cast the net wide to finger the underminers of our democracy.
|ECHOES IN RED: Nazi Party deputies in the Reichstag in Berlin in 1933. Before it came to power the party created disorder on the streets and in parliament |
Image by: UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
One unlikely, admittedly marginal, suspect on the wanted list is the mild-mannered and urbane minister of tourism, Derek Hanekom. You might recall that in May 2010, as chairman of the ANC disciplinary committee, he sentenced Julius Malema - at a time when his party thought it could contain his outsize ego inside its tent - to a course in "anger management" as "remedial action of a corrective nature" for criticising Zuma. Well, the country and the world saw last week, at least before parliament cut the live feed, just what a crashing failure that correction proved to be.Then we have the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe. Some weeks back, the EFF politics of mayhem and chaos was getting a dry run in and around the Gauteng legislature (before its advance into the hallowed portals of the National Assembly). Mantashe compared their conduct to that of the Nazis, drawing howls of outrage from Juju and Co. But Mantashe was onto something with that analogy, especially for those who do not see the clear and present danger of the EFF's disruptive and anarchic tactics.
Mantashe was wrong to compare the EFF's end goals to the unique evil of the Third Reich but he was right on their tactical similarities.In his Concise History of Nazi Germany, Joseph Bendersky explains - in immaculate detail - how the Nazi Party conducted itself in the Reichstag (parliament) of the Weimar Republic between 1930 and 1932, the crucial period when Hitler's party had only 18% support but enjoyed outsize attention, not least through its outlandish tactics.
The party pursed what Bendersky calls a dual strategy: it disrupted and paralysed the existing republican political system, while trying to use the same democratic system and electoral processes to win control of the very system it was so energetically undermining."They intimidated their opponents, they created disorder in the streets and they kept themselves in the public eye." If Malema has not read this history he is certainly doing a good job of copying it in both spirit and letter.
Inside parliament, the Nazi deputies "used obstruction tactics to hamper the governmental process. Nazi deputies disrupted parliamentary sessions with catcalls and unnecessary debates on points of order, and they opposed every attempt at serious legislation,'' Bendersky writes.It was precisely because Germany witnessed its pre-war democratic institutions being trashed by profoundly undemocratic forces within that when, on the ashes of the vanquished Reich, a new order was created in 1949 the drafters of the federal basic law or constitution were very careful. It prohibited any entity from fundamentally undermining "the democratic basic order". That is how both the resurrected Nazi Party and the West German Communist Party were banned by the federal constitutional court.
Our own constitution does not contain an equivalent clause. If it did, there is every likelihood that the EFF would be proscribed.But before Mantashe and other ruling-party heavies get too self-righteous, they would do well to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Because although Malema's tactics shock, and perhaps even rather thrill, weary taxpayers who wouldn't dream of voting EFF but who admire the way Malema puts Zuma to the sword, there is nothing hidden about the EFF playbook. They have the subtlety of a sledgehammer or a jackboot. But what of the more insidious undermining of parliament as a serious institution, one that the constitution mandates as the most important forum of governmental accountability in the land?
Here indeed Malema's now nemesis, the ANC, should take a deep bow. It is worth remembering that those who today howl loudest at the EFF's disruptiveness and disrespect for democratic decency have themselves with great enthusiasm and deliberation excavated under the foundations of our parliamentary democracy.It was not the EFF that turned a democratic parliament into a forum of non-debate and threadbare accountability. It was not the EFF that scrapped parliamentary interpellations. It was not the EFF that decided it was proper for its national chairman to be also the Speaker of parliament and the person in charge of its institutional independence.
According to the chief whip of the official opposition, John Steenhuizen, it was not the EFF either that in 2013, in splendid defiance of the constitution, ensured that only 17% of all oral questions submitted to ministers were actually answered by them in the House.Nor was it the EFF that steamrollered 53 bills through parliament last year, of which "only 20 were properly debated by the House, in just 28 hours".
You do not need to condone Malema's tactics to understand the seething frustrations that erupted last week in parliament; nor why they enjoy such widespread support.• Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook: facebook.com/TonyLeonSA