Clowns, klaps, penguins make parliament more fun

23 February 2020

Comic relief does not detract from serious discourse we need to move SA forward

As our parliament descended into the pits following the state of the nation address, the purists among us said this was a missed opportunity to discuss very important issues of econom­ic development in our country.

But was it really? Do we not have the time now? What, in fact, is the impedi­ment to a sustained national discourse about what affects us the most? With rap­id advancement in technology, which has disrupted entrenched markets, displaced products and created new ones, why are we so wont of complaining?

In the past, people had no access to me­dia platforms. We had to wait for the 7pm television news bulletin and the morning newspaper to get an idea what the main issues are both locally and elsewhere. If you missed the bulletin, tough!

There would be few people, I guess, who doubt that antiquated, unidirec­tional forms of newscasting have made way – thanks, in part, to platform inno­vations that changed news consumption patterns. I must say I guess because, you know, with people like FW de Klerk still blessed with longevity, we never really agree on anything as South Africans – do we?

And the “warm (read in Afrikaans) klap” he received from President Cyril Ramaphosa put the apartheid apologist in his place. We are grateful for small mercies.

It’s comforting that our president can hand out a klap when it’s required. And the president came armed with several klaps – didn’t he? There was another for Juju and another for the penguin guy. OK, the penguins might take offence – let’s call the Palooka from Seshego Our Perfect Wedding guy, with thanks to the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. And everybody apologised – from Ramaphosa to Juju, De Klerk and the wedding guy. Quite frank­ly, I was just sick of these apologies.

None of those who apologised was gen­uine. All of these politicians knew from the outset that what they were doing was wrong. Ramaphosa did not have a Da­mascus experience when he received an e-mail from a woman telling him that what happened in parliament was sick­ening. All of us knew that day, that very moment when it happened, that it was sickening. So what stopped him from in­tervening after that Palooka from Seshe­go started attacking Malema with abuse claims? Nothing! Malema also knew that he was accepting an invitation to go in­to the gutter when he started taking out files about the president. De Klerk seems to be apologising because of the back­lash – not because he has changed his verkrampte views.

Perhaps I must concede that the on­ly person who might have been clueless about his recklessness is Boy Mamabo­lo because, if you think about it, I am not sure he fully comprehends what he did. No, I am not making excuses for him.

I do think he needed to be shown the way, to be held by the hand, to be convinced that gutter politics is a com­plete no-no. Lauryn Hill calls it mised­ucation! It is not a thing obvious to him. After all, he once claimed he would exhume the grave of Malema’s mother and scatter the remains in front of the family house. As Malema put it in the house this week: “If you’re a fool, you’re a fool. And it’s not unparliamentary to say so!”

So, in hindsight, I do believe that that Boy was so overwhelmed by the national stage, the presence of the president and other dignitaries that his tongue ran ahead of his thoughts.

Anyway, these fake apologies forced me to digress. The point I wanted to make is that we sometimes act like we are very serious people, concerned only with mac­ro-economic issues – without room for fun. I find parliament much more inter­esting now, with Ndlozi taking the mick­ey out of many. It’s comical relief. With­out it, many sleep anyway.

A more serious question is – has the fun around parliament displaced substantive discourse that must be had to move our country forward? My answer is no. But the fun stuff gets more public attention than the substance. It does not follow that the corollary would be true were parlia­ment to be more dour and boring.

The reason the fun gets more attention is simple: that’s what people like to talk about. To pretend that even as the econ­omy is about to collapse, people are only interested in the economic debate is to be disingenuous. The trick, as editors are in­creasingly discovering, is to balance the serious and the interesting.

The purists will tell you how to do this and remind you that this is how it has al­ways been. They forget the implications of disruption on the norms. This is how parliament has always been. This is how newspapers have always been run. Non­sense. Norms change. Parliament chang­es. News consumption patterns change. If you defy change, you become a relic – and blame technology instead of adapting to it. At Sunday World, we are grateful for our readers who made us the second most read English newspaper on Sundays.

We do not behave like the purists who act as if the country’s debt-to-GDP ra­tio (hovering around 66%) is all what the country’s about. We mix our politics, our business and thought leadership with Shwashwi and celebrity tidbits. It is a delicate mix that has seen us sell more than Sunday Sun, our competition of two years ago, and City Press, once a proud, Distinctly African paper. It’s a new dawn in the Sunday newspaper market.


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