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More to SONA disruptions than meets the eye

- By Buhle Zuma

A discussion to examine the root cause of the chaotic events that unfolded in Parliament during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) indicates that the problem lies beyond unruly behaviour by political parties’ leadership.

The eviction of members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, jamming of the cellphone signal and presence of the police in Parliament – all of which happened during the SONA on 12 February 2015 – have drawn wide spread condemnation; triggering deep reflection on the state of democracy in South Africa.

But the debates are “ephemeral” said Professor Adam Habib, a political commentator and Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal in his opening remarks at a debate probing “violence in parliament” and “violence in democracy”.

Habib expressed concern that public discourse on the events seemed to dwell on South Africa’s international reputation and damage to the country’s brand.

“If we are serious about the conversation of violence in a democracy then there are two structural elements that we need to consider,” said Habib.

According to Habib, inequality in our society and the political compromises over the past 20 years were at the core of the raucous on the day of the SONA as well as the high levels of violence in South Africa.

“Inequality creates relative deprivation and has a dramatic impact in creating a polarised society.” This inadvertently engenders violence, said Habib and is evident in the rising number of service delivery protests and the intensity of violence during the protests.

The violence witnessed on 12 February as well as the controversial secrecy bill reflects a “beleaguered” party said Habib.

Struck by multiple constraints at various levels, factionalism and an inability to achieve inclusive economic growth the ruling party, the African National Congress, “is increasingly feeling beleaguered and the problem with it feeling beleaguered is that it is increasingly beginning to respond to the secular” argued Habib.

To listen to Habib’s argument, click here.

The main speaker, Prof. Karl von Holdt the Director of the Society Work and Development Institute, concurred with Habib, noting that the recurring questions on whether riots and violence are as a result of a dearth in leadership and democratic values are unhelpful.

Von Holdt sought to unravel the broader dynamics driving politics and violence in South Africa.

Von Holdt argued that there are “are two distinct, parallel and mutually entangled political systems in South Africa. The one is the forma and constitutionally recognised and the other; informal political systems based on patronage, factionalism and violence.

"Combined they are toxic and produce instability. The unofficial system subverts the official democratic political system and severely constricts democracy and the rights of citizens.”

To listen to von Holdt, click here.