MPs in the National Assembly. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE
MPs in the National Assembly. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE

The National Assembly has closed down ahead of the May 8 elections, its corridors are emptied of bustling MPs and the usually rowdy chamber is silent.

MPs have scattered to the far corners of the country to take up election campaigning for their respective political parties. Members of the National Council of Provinces will do likewise from Thursday. 

The overriding aim of the MPs will be to win as many votes for their parties as possible and in their fervour to do so will probably not think much of what their main duty should be, looking out for the best interests of the country as a whole.

It’s worth remembering that when they take office, MPs swear allegiance to the constitution and vow to be faithful to the republic.

It’s inevitable that supporters of a particular party believe that its policies are what is best for the country. That is after all the essential nature of politics and it is perhaps naive to expect otherwise from them.

Looking back at some of the most memorable events of the Jacob Zuma era should hopefully get our representatives, especially those sent to the House by the ANC, to reflect on their failure to draw a distinction between the interests of the party and those of the nation.

Except towards the end when the public enterprises committee undertook an investigation into state capture, ANC MPs failed to make that distinction, defending Zuma in repeated votes of no confidence even in the face of blatant wrongdoing such as the lavish expenditure on his private homestead at Nkandla.

What was ostensibly good for the ANC was seen as being good for SA when in fact the real good for both was to hold ministers and the government officials accountable, and dig deep into the corruption and malfeasance corroding institutions. Their approach has left the ANC with a credibility deficit that won’t be fixed by merely having a new leader.

Opposition MPs are not immune either, often blindly pursuing a tactical advantage for their parties at the expense of the greater good.

Returning to their constituencies once again and renewing their contact with voters will expose existing MPs and new candidates on party lists to the problems on the ground — unemployment, desperate poverty, a dysfunctional transport system, run down schools with no toilets and bridges that were paid for but not built.

This must surely instill a commitment to bring about an improvement in people’s lives and reflections on what role MPs can play.

Awareness of these realities can often become dimmed in the atmosphere of parliament.

MPs earn relatively high salaries and their lifestyles are far removed from  those of most of their constituents so it is possibly easy to forget the real purpose for their being there other than to sing along with the party chorus.

The yawning chasm between political elites and electorates has become a worldwide phenomenon, breeding political apathy and alienation. Witness the ongoing and often violent protest movement over the high cost of living in France, the disillusion in the UK over Brexit, and here at home the millions of young people who have not registered to vote.

It’s too early to say if President Cyril Ramaphosa will succeed in ushering a new era of a clean government in which corruption will be rooted out. There are a lot of reasons to be sceptical, not least the ANC list of candidates that indicates a party that’s deaf to that desire for honest and clean governance.

But we can only hope that the new batch of MPs to be sworn in after May 8 will be imbued by the spirit of renewal that Ramaphosa says he wants to entrench, not withstanding the rogues who will be back in May.

Hopefully, they will draw lessons from the sometimes dishonourable experience of the previous parliament and commit to doing better.