President Jacob Zuma talks to WEF CE Profr Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland last week. Picture:  Elmond Jiyane / DoC.
President Jacob Zuma talks to WEF CE Profr Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland last month. Picture: GCIS

WHILE the president continues to treat Parliament like a Sunday afternoon tea party, which he might or might not attend, depending on whether or not he likes the cupcakes on offer, the various political parties that comprise that institution have been debating if red overalls and hard hats should be allowed in the National Assembly.

The alternative? Nakedness.

"If they don’t want them, we will take off those overalls and walk naked. If that’s what they want to see, they will see it," an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) spokesperson said.

When that critical element of national debate was resolved, there was the small matter of whether or not a member should be called "honourable". Another heated exchange ensued.

In the background lurks the threat of a serious disruption by the EFF during President Zuma’s state of the nation address (SONA) later this month.

Godrich Gardee, EFF commissar responsible for mobilisation, campaigns and special projects, tweeted ominously this past week: "Countdown on EFF website to February 12 SONA!!!!! 12 days, 6 hours and 45 Minutes." Accompanying his message was a screenshot of the EFF website, which has a landing page that consists of nothing more than a countdown clock under the message #paybackthemoney.

So that institution seems to be going from strength to strength.

"Based on the Freedom Charter, we are building a SA that is united, democratic, nonracial, nonsexist and prosperous," President Zuma told investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

Elsewhere, members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC) in Mpumalanga sent each other to hospital, over attendance of a speech.

Former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, the person delivering the speech in question, said afterwards: "I have never seen ANC cadres in T-shirts attacking SACP members. It induced a sense of shock for me. My view is that it’s like Charlie Hebdo in France, because blood was spilt where people were supposed to assemble and express themselves freely. The right to expression was trampled on and violated in the most shocking way imaginable."

These kinds of brawls, some violent and others hostile, all with pushing and shoving, are becoming increasingly frequent. The ANC in the Cape Town City Council was locked out of the chamber after its first meeting descended into chaos. The source of conflict was an agenda item. Later, video footage showed ANC members abusing and physically confronting security guards.

"The behaviour of the ANC today is a disgrace. This is part of their campaign to make the city ungovernable. They behaved like thugs today," Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said in a press statement.

"The constitution of the republic, our supreme law, is based on the principles of the Freedom Charter," President Zuma pressed on in Davos.

Meanwhile, there is the small matter of us having run out of electricity.

Oh, and the Post Office has been declared technically insolvent. Also, South African Airways has been awarded an additional loan guarantee of R6.5bn, taking the total guarantees granted to the airline to R14.4bn.

"We have developed the National Development Plan as an instrument to help us achieve these development goals," said the president to Davos.

In a spasm of xenophobic prejudice, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu issued a veiled threat to foreign nationals in SA, saying unless they reveal their trade secrets they cannot expect to coexist peacefully with South Africans.

"SA remains fully open for business. We are inviting both domestic and foreign business partners to invest in the South African economy," the president assured investors at Davos.

Increasingly, prejudice in SA is defended from the most unexpected quarters. The ANC Women’s League, an organisation whose biggest contribution to the struggle for equality seems to be its unflappable support for Jacob Zuma, again defended the president after the Commission for Gender Equality took issue with his comments about womanhood being best served by marriage and children.

"He is only a human being," said ANCWL league president Angie Motshekga. "He may be the president, but we all say dumb things. He is just a human being and it should not be a reflection of how he treats women, because women like me who work with him know he has absolute respect for us. I truly feel the president treats us with respect."

Respect certainly is important to the president. In 2013 he said: "When I was in Venda recently, I was so impressed to see how people there express respect for other people. A woman would clap her hands and even lie down to show respect." Motshekga seems to have taken a preverbal political lead from them.

"Our message to our people this year is that we should continue working harder to build a country that belongs to all of us," the president told Davos.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega took to the stage at Jackie Selebi’s funeral — a man convicted of corruption — to say: "He laid deep foundations and those foundations will help us continue to take this service forward."

Phiyega also dismissed a South African Institute of Race Relations report on the widespread corruption and poor conduct of the South African Police Service, saying it was funded "with malicious intent". All the report did was collate media stories on the SAPS’s misconduct, in painting a rather dismal picture of the "deep foundation" Phiyega celebrates.

And the fight against corruption has taken a knock, too. Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille has described in detail how the country’s various crack corruption units are being purged of everyone who dares to demonstrate even a vague inclination towards independence or constitutional duty.

The army is faring no better. The Defence Review, which is gathering dust as a dithering joint standing committee on defence has held just one meeting in six months, says the South African National Defence Force is "... in a critical state of decline, characterised by: force imbalance between capabilities; block obsolescence and unaffordability of many of its main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments; and the lack of critical mobility".

Its conclusion? "Even with an immediate intervention, it could take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability."

This analysis seems to have generated little more than a twitch from all and sundry.

No doubt, in ten years, when the defence force has palpably collapsed (you could argue it has already), people will look back at that quote and wonder why nothing was done. But today, today it is just one warning among so many; separating the wood from the trees seems next to impossible.

"We believe the goals that are outlined in the National Development Plan are achievable," the president concluded in his Davos pitch.

But here is the really great news. The Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers has recommended public office bearers who earn less than R1m per annum get a 6% raise while those who earn more than R1m get 5%. The president is applying his mind to the suggestion.

In a wonderful short story titled, There Will Come Soft Rains, Ray Bradbury writes about an idyllic house that is a marvel of modern innovation and technology but that stands empty in town, decimated by some unarticulated destruction in the year 2026. Left to its own devices, it serves an absent family with care and precision. Until a dog, mad with hunger and desperation, forces itself in, setting off all the house’s systems, and simultaneously, a fire.

As the fire spreads out of control and eats into the house’s circuitry it too slowly goes mad as its technology warps in the heat: cooking countless breakfasts for invisible guests, cleaning at an exponential rate, reading bedtime stories, until it collapses in on itself.

"In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door, a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of manic confusion, yet unity; singing, screaming, a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away! And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked."

SA is that house and, to be sure, it is on fire. And all its systems and structures, glowing red hot under the pressure, are producing outcomes that have long since stopped resembling their original purpose.

Earlier this month, armed with knives and buckets, a mob stoned a cattle truck on the N2, causing it to overturn, and then set about hacking meat off the traumatised animals, many of which were still alive. "Some animals were unable to escape and were stolen or slaughtered by the frenzied crowd," said the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Not a dog, but certainty a wild hunger. It, too, is running through the house. As it frantically searches, to its great disappointment, it has found the disjuncture between intended purpose and real outcome has never been more acute.

Nevertheless, in the background, it can hear poetry being read.