After watching several dog fights that pass for parliamentary debates over the past week, I’m convinced there’s no longer anything honourable about this once-august institution.
You see, I’ve always believed, perhaps naively, that our MPs sit there as representatives of all 56 million people of our country and are ultimately accountable to them.
But the longer the State of the National Address (SONA) debates went on, the more convinced I became the interests of the people are the last thing on the minds of our so-called public representatives.
The House of Assembly is more like a place of sheltered employment for a motley bunch of pompous populists, educated fools, rowdy rabble-rousers and misguided party loyalists who we pay handsomely to do nothing but create a cacophony of chaos.
When EFF leader Julius Malema rose to the podium on Tuesday, he probably imagined this was his opportunity to tear President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reputation to shreds.
But he had hardly settled in when bombarded by a hail of points of order from the floor. Talk about getting a dose of his own medicine.
In my many years of reporting, I’ve often come across undignified and offensive language during Parliamentary debates, but Tuesday’s display of vulgarity reached an all-time low.
What was even more distressing was the manner in which the debate degenerated into a rowdy #YOUTOO exchange of accusations about which leaders had abused their wives.
How can you take such a serious issue as gender violence and use it to score cheap political points? Some might wish to argue that such exchanges are part of the democratic process in which the freedom of speech is a fundamental right.
But freedom of speech is not an absolute right, especially when it begins to infringe on the rights of others. Those foolish enough to dismiss Malema’s antics as harmless TV entertainment for the masses do so at their peril.
If not nipped in the bud, this tyranny of the loudest and most uncouth will soon become the norm and our Parliament turned into an ungovernable House of Chaos.
To avoid such a catastrophe, three crucial steps need to be taken.
As a start, let’s ensure we have a Speaker of the House who is familiar with the rules of Parliament and is both fair and firm, not some lame duck chair who merely chants “Order in the House” to silence the rabble-rousers.
What’s then needed are urgent changes to The House rules governing debates.
If MPs wish to behave like kids, they must be treated like kids. When kids ignore house rules, they risk losing their allowances.
In the long term, we hope the chaotic scenes we witnessed at the SONA will convince political leaders across party lines to come together and start talking about electoral reforms that allow for a constituency-based House in which public representatives are chosen directly by the people.
It’s all elementary – we desire a democracy that is of the people, by the people, for the people.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.