Some thoughts on the EFF and parliament (from 2014)

THE Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) campaign for sartorial freedom has brought a welcome upsurge in media coverage of SA’s legislatures.

A ban on overalls makes no sense. Like veal calves, MPs are highly restricted in movement, spend most of their lives indoors and are force-fed starchy food. Their exercise options are limited to a stroll across the road to Adult World or a taxi ride to a Cape Town restaurant, where more fattening-up awaits them.

If bright one-piece suits were made compulsory, MPs could simply expand like the hot air balloons they already so closely resemble.

MPs could be colour-coded by party, and waddle happily around the corridors of Parliament like glorious red, blue or yellow penguins: a true rainbow Parliament.

Sources claim that hostility to one-piece overalls originates with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is rumoured to have understandably confused the front bench of the National Assembly with the first-class cabin of an international airliner.

At the back of the chamber, overweight MPs watch movies on their smartphones, and keep their handbags under the seats in front of them. Towards the front of the house, in more capacious parliamentary business class berths, sit even more overweight ministers — the sole exception being a glamorous pouting minister dubbed “Barbie Doll” (also known as Fikile Mbalula).

Ramaphosa is, meanwhile, seated at the front in first class. It would be no surprise to see him reclining his seat, and selecting a fine wine or his choice of galley-prepared food from a passing air stewardess. The deputy president reportedly tried during the recent state of the nation speech to transform his seat into a fully flat bed, and asked an usher to bring his one-piece overnight slumber suit, all the while complaining that EFF economy-class passengers already had theirs.

Meanwhile, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande is sulking because the EFF has stolen his favourite colour. The opposition party, however, cannot switch to blue jumpsuits because that colour is reserved for skydivers, and for leaders of the Democratic Alliance such as David Maynier and Helen Zille, who are unable to dress themselves in normal clothes.

If opposition parties eventually embrace the EFF’s sartorial revolution, and don overalls of their own, they will need to remember one important piece of fashion advice: horizontal stripes on your romper suit are not a good idea if you have a full figure.

Assorted parliamentary speakers have launched a concerted campaign against the EFF’s clothing choices, their most spurious rationale being an offence against “decorum”. So important is decorum to African National Congress (ANC) leaders that they are willing, in order to protect it, to send police officers into provincial legislatures to evict elected representatives.

The idea of decorum has provided a pretext for an insidious campaign against parliamentary free expression. National Council of the Provinces chair Thandi Modise curiously objected to unexceptionable remarks about Blade Nzimande’s political style — it was not as though someone claimed he used to be a supporter of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

This week, ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude made the still more farcical ruling that it is unparliamentary to describe a fellow MP as a “thief”. (It is fine for an MP to be a thief, apparently, it is just not proper to say that they are.)

“Extremist and offensive behaviour,” the deputy speaker insisted, “will certainly activate the use of the rules”, because such codes “protect the dignity of everyone seated in this house”. MPs are obliged, in Dlakude’s view, to promote “cohesion” in debates.

EFF MPs who can see which way the wind is blowing should switch to orange jumpsuits. When police officers arrest them for failing to promote social cohesion, or for causing an affront to ministerial dignity, at least they won’t have to change clothes when they arrive at Pollsmoor Prison.

• Butler teaches politics at the University of Cape Town.

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