We have all witnessed the circus that’s been the EFF’s entrance to Parliament, akin to something of a comedic fairy-tale with costumes, heroes and villains. We’ve seen everything from heartfelt letters to the public such as Andile Mngxitama’s “Letter from Parliament” and Julius Malema thrown out of Parliament for accusing the ANC of murdering mineworkers.
Clearly the EFF has come to ruffle a few feathers, an act that keeps the political lifeblood flowing. But there’s another side to this political game and that’s the parliamentary system in the form of committee meetings.
Agendas for committees have been (or are in the process of being) set and it’s time for the hard work and gruelling meetings that bring on narcolepsy in some MPs to start.
It’s time for the less glamorous part of being an MP — an endless parade of departments, state entities, public hearings and debates on legislation. The mandate is tiring, cumbersome and sometimes boring. And it’s not the loudest kid on the block who gets far but the most tactical.
Malema has spoken about bringing substantive debate, despite having only 25 MPs roaming the hallowed halls. The new kids on the block have a great deal to contend with without the gift of experience afforded to their fellow colleagues.
Some are returning veterans who know all the tricks of the trade: which meetings to turn up to and which to skip, which questions to ask, who to be offended by and who to ignore, which issues are pressing and which can be put on the back burner.
They understand that there’s a strange, tense and hierarchical relationship between the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.
They will understand that not all committees were created equal and will act accordingly.
Off the bat the EFF faces a number of problems.
Firstly, in the committees, relationships have been built over the last four years (good or bad) with the departments, the entities they oversee and the officials in those structures. MPs know their colleagues in the government sphere and the private sphere.
Four years in the portfolio committee on energy and you will know the chief executive of Engen. A little bit of flirtatious banter is sometimes not a far stretch when you’ve been working with the director general of a department for the last quarter of a decade. You will know the history of that state entity that cannot underspend to save its life and how there was that scandal with the secretary who is now chief director.
These relationships can be tricky to navigate, especially when you are the new kid on the block.
The ANC has numbers, it can fill the committees almost to quorum every single time, giving it great sway on issues. This means that when voting on an issue it can easily squash the other parties that do not agree.
I have sat in committee meetings where the DA are completely opposed on an issue (to the point of presenting an official dissenting opinion) but with the chairperson being ANC and the majority of the committee being ANC the matter’s been passed.
On the other side, the DA has the information.
ANC members often turn up to meetings having read very little and knowing even less. They then navigate the meeting by utilising the pure force of numbers and the special skill of asking borderline unhelpful questions.
The DA has a team of researchers, some even attend the meetings with them, handing them notes with information and loopholes so that they can ask “the really hard questions”.
This is in addition to the researcher assigned to the committee as a whole.
When watching the EFF speak I’ve seen a great deal of heart, but sometimes very little research. Often the question that came up in debates was “how exactly are you going to do this?” which sees the EFF candidate floundering.
In a post-rally world this alone will not cut it.
The EFF fanfare was all good and well during the election period but the intricacies of having your voice heard when you are faced with numerous parliamentary committees built on existing (complex) relationships and tackling an array of policies is a monumental task.
There is a lot the party must deal with — there are more than 45 committees in the National Assembly, 13 in the National Council of Provinces and 400 MPs from different parties.
The numbers game is not on their side and neither is experience.
In order to truly push the agenda they claim to want to push they will have to work smart.
The question is, does the EFF have the ability to work smart in order to ensure it’s not working hard with no discernible gains except extensive belly girth?
Only time will tell.