18 February 2015

Malice in parliament: may the farce be with you

CyberShrink gives us his views on the explosive events during the recent State of the Nation Address.


I don’t suppose there’s any truth in the rumour that the parliamentary proceedings channel on DSTV is to be renamed “Supersport 15”...  

And when I saw the headline on a News24 feed: “Wild Boar Causes Chaos…”, I thought it was further comment on SONA – until I saw it actually happened in Spain, at an airport, and involved a real boar

The recent chaos in parliament keeps on reminding me of certain literary precedents, especially Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. I, however, decided to name this one Malice in Blunderland

A kind of autism

Someone recently made a psychological analysis of Russian President Putin, based on video recordings of his speeches, analyzing his “micro-expressions”.

The conclusion was that he suffers from a variety of autism, which explains his lack of empathy with others and his fondness of confrontation. I’m somewhat sceptical about this work, but I was surprised at the lack of comment on the very curious behaviour of President Zuma (and others) during the debacle at the recent State of the Nation Address. 

Read: Autism

The EFF were strangely and unexpectedly impressive. While the parliamentary leadership seem to have spent their time planning for a violent confrontation, the EFF had seriously done their homework. They were calm, polite, firm, and right. They knew the book of rules, and that the Speaker was not entitled to ignore or repeal those rules. She seemed unaware of this and implacably worked towards creating an excuse for having the EFF thrown out of the house. Though they raised points of order, she ignored these and did not properly rule on them.

Since the events, the EFF have been dismissed as “hooligans” who were “extremely provocative”. They may have been annoying, certainly, and that was clearly their intention, but they were scrupulously courteous and well-mannered. The only hooligans we saw were the thuggish heavies who swarmed in and dragged them out. 

Ruthless in seeking revenge

Mbete reminded me very much of Madame Defarge in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, the woman who sat at the guillotine, knitting away ferociously, exalting in her desire for retaliation, her knitting encoding the names of those due for removal, and enjoying the executions. Madame Defarge was ruthless in seeking revenge and the political persecution of real or supposed opponents of her beliefs. But I don’t believe the rumours that Mbete’s tall yellow and black hat hid the gadget that jammed cell-phone signals. 

Read: Why cell conversations are annoying

She had slightly revised her tactics after the previous confrontation. First, with the ostentatious condescension of a nursery school teacher, she pedantically explained her view of events, ignoring the appropriate standing orders. 

Because the President was present and able to answer questions, he wasn’t going to, so you could not ask him anything.  Next week, when he won’t be here to answer anything, you will be free to ask your question.  In a way, she was like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who told Alice: “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” 

Her facial expressions were fascinating, often appearing malicious, and when the uproar began, there seemed to be a smirk of satisfaction at what was happening.  It’s also highly unusual for any parliamentary session to be co-chaired, with two people sharing control (and never, surely, actually necessary).

But along with the chairwoman of the National Council of Provinces, they functioned like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They just about finished each other’s sentences, and certainly echoed each other in full agreement, as though they were convinced that whatever they said became even more awesomely true if repeated or echoed. As the original Tweedledee said: “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.” 

Resuming the speech

When the President finally resumed his speech, it was as though nothing unusual had happened in the interim; he simply continued, without commenting on the bizarre scenes he, like the rest of us, had witnessed. Shortly before, he had told an interviewer that he wasn’t in the least anxious about the prospect of giving his big speech, remarking that he never feels anxious. If that is really so, maybe that in itself is something he ought to feel anxious about. It’s an occasion when a huge audience watches him closely, noting his errors, omissions and faults.

He is supposed to be talking about health of our whole nation, and how he plans to fix its problems.  If the prospect of such a challenge does not make you anxious at all, maybe that suggests you don’t take the situation seriously enough – which should make us all rather anxious. 

Read: Anxiety disorders

As he spoke, especially as the long and generally uninteresting platitudes wound on, he began to behave more oddly.  He stumbled over words and phrases quite often, as though he had never actually read the speech before he stood up.  He was troubled by phrases in English but also in other African languages, especially Zulu, with which the text was peppered.  There was quite a bit of oddly chilling, smug chuckling.  He muttered to himself at times, and giggled.  

What was he laughing about? What aspect of the nation’s ill-health, the high unemployment and economic difficulties did he find so very amusing – as we are regularly plunged into darkness, and will be for the foreseeable future? Perhaps we should ask him to share the joke with us...

Read more:

Politics get in the way of empathy

Politics hard-wired in brain

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.




Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.