(Sumaya Hisham, Pool/AP)
Now that the dust has almost settled after the chaotic State of the Nation Address (SONA), it is time to reflect on what actually happened.
As a nation we are getting used to the confrontation between the EFF and President Jacob Zuma in Parliament. The only thing new about the disruptions we saw in this year’s opening of Parliament is that this time the disruptions lasted much longer than the previous year.
The EFF’s strategy of exposing Zuma as a man who is not fit to address Parliament is effective at first glance, but it becomes a bit repetitive after the first ten minutes.
The ANC, on the other hand, prefers to throw the rulebook at the EFF, consequently expelling the party from the house. As for the DA; the party simply picks up the relay baton from the EFF and stage a walkout.
The question I found people asking afterwards is who was better in all this. My answer is simple: no one from that assembly looked better.
Parliament is supposed to be a place to deal with differences and process them into a dignified consensus with the ultimate goal to impose a solution. The Zuma factor has brought Parliament to a standstill, incapable of forging a consensus on how to move on.
The EFF is aware that it will not remove Zuma by yelling profanities at him. After all, Zuma is immune to insults. He is simply gifted in ignoring the reality surrounding his increasingly controversial leadership.
But then one has to ask the question as to what it is that the EFF seeks to achieve by doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results (if, in fact, they do expect different results).
The EFF’s main goal is to increase the cost of maintaining Zuma for the ANC. Whenever the EFF objects to listening to Zuma because of his constitutional indiscretions, it becomes odd for the ANC to defend him as members of the party become accomplices to his trail of “constitutional delinquency”.
But there is a limit to the effectiveness of this strategy. In economics, there is a principle called the law of diminishing returns. In relation to this matter, this means that no matter how much intensity or resources you put towards disrupting Zuma in Parliament, he just cannot be embarrassed further and there will be no increase in returns from this strategy pursued by the EFF.
Shouting at Zuma two hundred times is not any more effective than doing it twice. Actually, the more the EFF increases the decibels in yelling at Zuma, the more Zuma starts to look presidential and decent again.
Remember, he maintains his silence as they are shouting at him, becoming the victim of youth politics gone wrong.
So what is it that the EFF or anyone who cares should do to make it unbearable for the ANC to continue defending Zuma? This is a more difficult question to answer and it requires a long-term approach by the EFF.
The best way to increase political return from embarrassing Zuma would be to take up the matter with the people and ensure that they are fully conversant with the issue. Shouting in Parliament is not enough to achieve this goal, and it has its own limits when it comes to reaching out to ordinary citizens.
By taking Zuma’s issues to the constituents in the form of peaceful political rallies and messaging, the EFF will be able to drive the message home for when people vote in the next elections. By pursuing disruptions only in Parliament, the EFF is becoming short-sighted and avoids doing the much-needed work on the ground.
The problem with opposition politics in South Africa is that members of the opposition think they will achieve certain goals by directly confronting ANC leaders. They leave out the constituents, who are then reduced to spectators in the conflict between former allies.
This recipe, driven by the bloated egos of opposition leaders, cannot achieve substantive political goals because it lacks a direct connection with the people. Until such a point where ordinary people make sense of this conflict and how it directly affects their lives, they will simply see it as a personal vendetta against Zuma, the real master of disguise playing victim throughout.
Opposition leaders need not stretch their mandate even if violation of the Constitution is involved. The Constitution is nothing if ordinary citizens do not feel it ought not to be violated.
It is up to the opposition to build the narrative among ordinary communities based on the values of the Constitution and to demonstrate how its violation affects ordinary people’s lives. Until this exercise is carried out in the form of wider political education, the opposition’s behaviour in Parliament simply looks like a pompous exercise by people with a personal vendetta against Ubaba!
– Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.