I politely declined the offer of MP's accommodation in Pelican Park. The prospect of navigating Cape Town's congested roads and residing miles from parliament drove me to find more suitable lodgings. I found a most agreeable place, a stone's throw from the precinct and am looking forward to moving in tomorrow evening.
In the interim I found an AirBnB cottage in Vredehoek and walked to Parliament. Along the way I encountered rats and rubble and many homeless people sleeping rough – a sign of the times and not unique to Cape Town. It needs addressing though, and I trust Mayor De Lille is applying her mind creatively. Parliament was seized by budget votes and debates for the various portfolio committees. Being new, I attended as many as possible, with a view to familiarising myself with the issues.
My portfolio – Home Affairs – had its sitting in the old assembly building which is modelled on Westminster. It reeks of history, not least as the site where Verwoerd was assassinated. The EFF was in good form with their speaker announcing – in reference to the previous minister, Gigaba'a sexual dalliances – that she was not in the habit of kissing black frogs. The ANC raised a point of order in protest to this characterisation – to no avail.
The input to the debate from the governing party was characterised by shockingly poor speeches, read verbatim, often in an almost unintelligible monotonous drone. The obligatory quote from Oliver Tambo, a reference to the racism of colonialism and its heirs (the DA, naturally), and the trumpeting of radical economic transformation – without a hint of what that entails – was de rigueur in every debate I attended.
The select committee on finance provided the opportunity to hear from the chairman of South African Airways' board about her plans to rescue the ailing carrier – more chance of achieving that than President Zuma discovering that he can spell morality. Still, we were treated to Derek Hanekom lecturing the assembled members on the importance of the ancillary value a national carrier plays in boosting the broader economy and dignity of the nation.
There was no particular attempt at quantifying these adjacent inputs nor any recognition that this could be equally well served by a profitable, commercially run operation that wasn't a constant drain on the fiscus. That said, the CEO, left, having been roundly admonished by most members, including the chairman.
One does need to be wary of measures that seek to alter a legal and constitutional system that is proving to be an effective bulwark to the more outlandish desires of the current government.
My former schoolmate, Lindiwe Sisulu, minister for human settlements, was predictably dressed to the nines (and as eloquent,) as she sought to highlight the ANC's achievements in the building of houses for the poor. Alas, scant focus was given to remedying the legacy of apartheid's spatial organisation, the entire exercise being characterised by a numbers game – how many dwellings, devoid of creative application have been rolled out. Her mind is clearly elsewhere, as the various slates for the ANC's leadership are emerging, with Lindiwe firmly ensconced in one of them.
The debate on justice and constitutional development revolved in large measure around the radical restoration of traditional (African) precepts in law, which was all a bit reminiscent of UCT students pushing for the decolonisation of science and maths. I'm being a trifle flippant here, but one does need to be wary of measures that seek to alter a legal and constitutional system that is proving to be an effective bulwark to the more outlandish desires of the current government.
The budget vote on energy afforded the new minister an opportunity to deliver her maiden speech. She was appropriately dressed in an outfit of sun yellow and gold, which might have pointed to solar future. Alas the possibility of nuclear energy loomed large while the independent (alternative) power producers continued to be sidelined. The minister, from all accounts, is a decent and independently minded person – her support of Zuma over Nkandla notwithstanding. The tragedy is, should she exercise evidence-based independence, her job will be on the line.
I look forward to the following week, not least the inevitable references to minister Jeff Radebe's sexually inappropriate texts to a staffer in his department.