Gradually, the status of the EFF is beginning to crystallise. Now that it has a democratically elected leadership (something which the UDF never possessed) it can turn its attention to maintaining organisational discipline. This should mean calling people like Andile Mngxitama to account.
In the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Africanist movement in general there has long been a tradition of telling lies in order to foster private advantage, an advantage handicapped by the intellectual deficiencies of the PAC leadership. Mngxitama seems to be acting within this tradition. At least, when you go to a press conference to announce that you are the victim of a conspiratorial deal under which the leadership of your party has undertaken not to disrupt the Presidential State of the Nation address, it’s advisable not to hold that press conference the day before the leadership of the party disrupts the Presidential State of the Nation address. One is apt to be recognised as a very silly and incompetent liar when one does that.
But more to the point, there’s a big difference between “bringing the organisation into disrepute” when the organisation is riding high in power and influence, and when the organisation is an insurgent force which has to cope with immense amounts of attacks from all sides. The former is just pitiful; when Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being just like ZANU (PF), and was called on the carpet, he wasn’t kicked out of the party because he was easily exposed as a nauseating, opportunistic hypocrite (a role he has played ever since). If he had done something like that in 1989, he could easily have been shot (and the Jeremy Cronin of 1989 would have pulled the trigger himself).
Mngxitama doesn’t understand party discipline because his goal is not to accomplish anything, but to get himself talked about and potentially get some money out of that, which is the goal of most of our contemporary politicians. By his behaviour he’s showing himself unfit to have been elected as an official of the EFF — which is the petulant reason he’s telling all these lies and smearing his own party. Whether or not he’s kicked out, the point is that he will never be taken seriously as an EFF member again, by anyone, even the right-wingers who may try to exploit him as an example of the “divisions” within the EFF.
It is fortunate, in fact, that those members of the EFF who are corrupt Africanists are exposing themselves so clumsily as tools of white plutocracy (Wa Azania is another example of this tendency). One must remember that Africanists have often made healthy recruits for the Charterist movement; figures like Terror Lekota were once Africanists.
Meanwhile, the disruption of the State of the Nation address was, of course, a publicity stunt, but it also conveyed various messages which are worth conveying, so claims that such behaviour is doing nothing more than lowering the tone of political debate.
The most obvious message is that the President is dishonest and afraid of acknowledging his own dishonesty.
Another obvious message is that the President abuses his authority and prefers violence to debate.
Yet another obvious message is that what the President has to say is not worth listening to.
Furthermore, another obvious message is that when the rules of procedure serve to protect dishonest and cowardly thugs engaged in telling lies and wasting time, the rules of procedure should be exploited in order to show the thugs up.
All this is quite obvious to anyone paying attention to events. It is known to virtually the whole public, which is why this publicity stunt was so successful. Also, virtually everything that the Zuma supporters did, all the way down to the hysterical shrieks of Baleka Mbete and her allies, cast more light on it and made the issues more obvious. The DA was forced to piggyback on the EFF’s success, which was helpful for both of them (although virtually all commentators, and the ANC itself, attempted to discredit the EFF and endorse the DA, for the DA poses no threat to the established order whereas the EFF might).
The thing which the ANC took away with them from this was the idea that thuggery works. This is, in fact, the idea which the Zuma faction has always possessed, and it is a gross oversimplification. Firstly, thuggery works best when you have the support of the propaganda agencies (which the Zuma faction no longer has) and when the public is stupid enough to be behind you (which the Zuma faction can no longer be sure of) and when you are dealing with people who are either cowards, or paralysed by indecision or by divided loyalties. Thuggery worked against Mbeki because he had been betrayed by all his allies and thus could not take action against it. Thuggery did not work against the ANC Youth League, and it doesn’t work against the EFF. You can only intimidate people who are either cowardly, or know that you are prepared to carry your intimidation to the bitter end, and since the EFF aren’t cowards and don’t believe that the ANC will use apartheid-era tactics against them, these criteria don’t apply.
Thuggery also doesn’t greatly impress people who disagree with your basic principles, which is why it probably hasn’t impressed the DA. (Meanwhile, thuggery used by the EFF against the ANC might be more effective provided it is used in the pretense — or even the reality — of defending the Freedom Charter.) So when the ANC disrupted the Western Cape “State of the Province” address, they weren’t doing exactly the same as the EFF had done to them. No doubt to some extent they were rallying ANC supporters (who feel, with considerable reason, that the DA doesn’t look after their interests) but they weren’t making DA supporters uncomfortable in the way that the EFF did by focussing on the personal dishonesty and abuse of authority f the President. On the contrary, they were probably galvanising DA supporters. And, as for the ANC supporters, there must have been some who were aghast at the sheer hypocrisy of justifying an assault on MPs by saying that hooliganism must be rooted out of elected assemblies, and then promoting the behaviour which you had called hooliganism in another elected assembly. Therefore the action probably lost support without gaining any.
The fundamental problem about Parliament, and in a sense all elected assemblies in South Africa, is that they are fetishised and idealised to a ridiculous extent by people who ought to know better. We are told that because they are elected assemblies they are representatives of the masses, and therefore deserve a respectful hearing. Actually that is only true to the extent to which they actually represent the masses — and, on investigation, they usually represent the masses very badly, whether in a municipal chamber misspending the rates, in a provincial legislature mismanaging the provincial administration, or in Parliament failing to run things effectively. The general public want a lot of quite specific things which we are not getting, and our elected assemblies are failing (for the most part) to even acknowledge this, let alone do something about it.
Therefore, the protest against Zuma and the State of the Nation Address makes a certain amount of sense as a protest both against bad governance and against elected assemblies helping to enable, protect and cover up for that bad governance. The same would be true of disrupting the Western Cape legislature if one could believe that the people doing the disruption had any real intention of improving the governance or of discouring such cover-ups — which, of course, they don’t.
So, if these legislatures are not fulfilling their function, then they do not deserve to be held in high regard and treated with respect. Yet many commentators do not accept this, because in the end they hope that their factions will take control of the country someday and will seek to mismanage it in the interests of the tiny minority constituting their chosen faction.. Therefore they want the glamour of Parliament and high office, the fashion parades and uniforms and brass bands, to substitute for legitimate government, and therefore they do not want anyone to detract from those shoddy symbols. Also, of course, they do not want to encourage people to think too deeply about who they are voting for or what they are voting about.
Such people are obviously the enemies of democratic governance, and yet they are the ones who are chosen to speak on behalf of democratic governance by the propaganda organs of the ruling class — who are, clearly, themselves opposed to democratic governance. The enemies of Parliament, in other words, are everywhere in power. They are the enemies of the actual Parliament, the idea that a gathering of elected representatives might be able to make a difference to the lives of those who elected them — on behalf of the Parliament which has walls and restaurants and guards and glittering brazen ornaments.
Paradoxically, this means that the ANC in the Western Cape legislature was doing the right thing after all, although for the wrong reason and, because they were the wrong people to do the job, having the wrong effect. Unfortunately, nobody is going to think more deeply about the radical potential of an elected legislature because the ANC disrupts it. They will either think about how they can exploit and make use of the situation, or they will pretend to be outraged because they cannot exploit the situation on these terms, but only by pretending that shibboleths and empty symbols are the only thing which is important in politics. It’s very like the people who appeal to the Constitution in order to prevent the public from accessing their rights.
It is certainly important to know when it’s appropriate to accept discipline, even the discipline of people for whom you have little respect. Sometimes discipline is deserved, and sometimes it is advisable or necessary, simply because the alternative is chaos. Sometimes it has to be challenged. In a case where you are in a weak (but just and intellectually valid) position and discipline can be used to make it still weaker, then that discipline has to be jettisoned. But when you are challenging discipline simply because you do not have the strength of character, organisational loyalty and political intelligence to recognise the value of that discipline, when you would rather play in the muck and pretend that you are free — that’s when someone has to strike you firmly in the back of the neck. We need more such strikers in our political climate.