“This legislature, designated as the institution of Parliament, has a celebrated lineage involving a heroic struggle against monarchical despotism and an intriguing and fascinating evolution culminating in a constitutional monarchy and a democratic body politic. It emerged as a historic exemplar and bastion of liberty, not only for the British people, but also for all nations applying a system of parliamentary government, as we do in SA. Parliamentary democracy as developed at Westminster is a universal legacy and a priceless heritage. SA has moved from a system involving a sovereign apartheid parliament to a democratic parliament operating in terms of an exemplary Constitution and a bill of rights”.
George Devenish, an emeritus professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: SA must not confuse mob rule with democracy published by Business Day on BDlive on 5 March 2016.
Parliament’s manifold functions involve not only the making of laws, but ensuring that the government is by the people under the Constitution. It fulfils this cardinal function by electing the president, providing a national forum for public debate and the deliberation and consideration of all national political issues. This results in the passing of legislation as well as scrutinising, criticising and overseeing the conduct of the executive.
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A great responsibility rests on the speaker and other presiding officers to maintain order and decorum in the chamber. The chief function of the speaker, who occupies a most distinguished office, is to preserve the privileges and dignity of Parliament. This must be done with manifest impartiality and courage. The speaker must be independent of the executive. Unfortunately, the way Baleka Mbete, as speaker, has conducted herself displays an abysmal understanding of the requirements of a historic and distinguished office, which has its genesis in mother of Parliament at Westminster.
As we have adopted a parliamentary system of government, its ethos and operation is relevant for the working of our system of parliamentary democracy. The office has an ancient lineage that was characterised by both dignity and fearless independence. It is in regard to the latter that Mbete and other presiding officers have failed so manifestly, by their blatant partiality to the African National Congress (ANC), involving, inter alia, an inability to protect the institution from the spurious points of order and correctly and impartially decide on what are and are not parliamentary terms.
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The Democratic Alliance (DA) as the official opposition has a very responsible role to play in the present debacle in Parliament. However difficult this may be, it must attempt to effect some kind of reconciliation between conflicting interests and personalities by exercising a leadership role in relation to the other opposition parties and engaging the ANC. The conduct of the EFF, with its fascist tendencies, leaves a great deal to be desired in their language and conduct, which makes it difficult or virtually impossible for other parties to carry out their oversight role of the executive role by rational debate and discourse.
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It is further submitted that the electorate and people of SA are looking for statesmanlike conduct that will resolve the system of chronic crisis that has prevailed in Parliament. It is imperative that this be done immediately by effecting a reconciliation between different parties that are committed to rational debate and by devising a strategy to prevent the EFF from causing pandemonium that renders Parliament ungovernable.
The optimal working of parliament requires co-operation between government and opposition parties. The ANC must therefore take the lead to bring this about. If this is not done, SA and its fledgling democracy will lose and there will be frightening consequence for all concerned. There is no easy way out of the present crisis, so it is essential that political leadership with of the ANC, the DA other responsible parties rise to the occasion.