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OPINION: The State we are in

So we have stumbled upon a new trend, that of disrupting the business of legislatures, be it national Parliament or provincial legislatures.

It seems though that little was gained either in Gauteng or the Western Cape due to the rather amateurish disruptions of both state of the province addresses this week.

In the Western Cape legislature, the Speaker was compelled to suspend the proceedings and Helen Zille promptly delivered her State of the Province Address before the media. In Gauteng, Premier David Makhuru was also interrupted several times by unruly EFF members.

In the Western Cape there appears to have been a backlash from some ANC supporters piqued by their party's disruptive conduct. Of course, a few weeks ago, the ANC similarly disrupted a City Council meeting regarding the demolition of houses to make way for a MyCiti route. The ANC in the Western Cape, under the hapless leadership of Marius Fransman, seems to have neither a strategic plan nor the political nous to deal with the specific challenges of the province. Who is it speaking to and whose vote does it wish to garner? They seem to keep missing the point by playing grand-standing politics. Quite how they believe that disrupting Zille's speech would further their agenda with the poor and working class is frankly, baffling.

Similarly, the EFF in Gauteng, trying hard to replicate their national counterparts and failed dismally.

In both instances though the Speakers of the provincial legislatures, unlike Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, did not take the bait and dealt with matters even-handedly. No police were called and no violence ensued.

But the disruptions tell us a great deal about the 'state we are in'. Political parties seem to be locked into endless, vitriolic debates with little substance. Tinkering around the edges of the great challenges of the day, poverty, unemployment and inequality, they fight for the spoils of weakly constructed arguments and illogic. As Barney Mthombothi wrote so eloquently recently, we seem to be a country obsessed with 'trivia and mediocrity'.

How right he is. It is time to inject a dose of realism into our politics along with the ability to deal with the sticking points in our society, with foresight and wisdom.

Quite separately, President Zuma took the heat out of the National Assembly last Thursday during his Sona reply. He was even declared 'presidential' by some in the media. Sometimes we have short memories.

Yet, the wily politician that Zuma is, he managed to defuse the tensions in Parliament for the time being. Yet, while all this was swirling around the president's head, extraordinary allegations arose on the weekend that Zuma was poisoned by one of his wives MaNtuli. Lady McBeth, step aside.

We have no idea as to the truth of these allegations but if they are, there certainly are grave dangers to the State. One wonders whether the State Security Agency (SSA), so busy fighting proxy party political battles, has any idea of real security threats, to the president or anyone else actually. This week's Al Jazeera ' Spy Cable' leaks show just how compromised our SSA is and how it has lost all focus.

As the Right to Know campaign said in its statement regarding the Cable leaks this week, the SSA 'has followed a path of almost total secrecy that goes far beyond what is justifiable:

• SSA does not table a public budget to Parliament or release an annual report that accounts in even broad strokes for its activities.

• The SSA's national security estimate and national security priorities are not publically disclosed or subject to public input. (It is worth emphasising that these documents can be disclosed without compromising operational matters - even in states with over-powerful security structures, it is not uncommon for these to be public documents).

• The SSA and allied structures have shown a tendency of widespread over-classification of information, far beyond any reasonable need for secrecy.

• Parliament's intelligence oversight committee, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, meets consistently behind closed doors, and has frequently failed to release annual reports on its activities, effectively keeping the public in the dark about evidence of widespread dysfunction, financial mismanagement, and even criminality in the security structures.

Quite how the SSA will go about regaining its credibility remains to be seen. But this is the uglier side of a state-led society of secrets. The signal-jamming at Sona was but one manifestation of a SSA which is unaccountable and partisan.

In all public institutions we seem to need less heat and more light to give content to our right to receive and impart information, thus creating a government based on transparency and accountability as the Constitution envisages.

Judith February is a senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

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