“Unparliamentary” Behaviour: Things MPs have said…

March 14, 2014 (5 years, 5 months ago)

Following yesterday’s lively exchange between Freedom Front Plus MP, Pieter Groenewald, and Acting Minister for Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Lechesa Tsenoli, which saw Groenewald get thrown out of the National Assembly for telling the Minister he was talking “nonsense”, People’s Assembly saw an opportunity to report on the “unparliamentary” language used by MPs that the public isn’t always privy to.

Unparliamentary behaviour is any expression, remark or gesture that defies the politeness of Parliament or is deemed by the presiding officer to be offensive, provocative or threatening. These include personal attacks, insults or obscene language, none of which are rendered parliamentary by being framed as a question, used hypothetically or being quoted.

Unparliamentary expressions are only applicable to individuals, not political parties, and include, but are not limited to, unsubstantiated allegations, nickname references and (yes, this is correct) animal noises.

South Africa’s MP’s have demonstrated a particular proclivity for using animal references to insult fellow Members, all of which have consequently been declared unparliamentary. Some of the insults that have been thrown around in the House include “fat cat,” “meow” (the animal noise), “hungry puppies,” “chihuahua” and “donkeys”.

Members are also prohibited from telling fellow Member’s to “sit on a member” or, quite ironically, to state the word “unparliamentary.” Some expressions that have been challenged, but not considered unparliamentary, include the “biggest mouthed member,” “charming” and naturally “Izinja ziyayikhonkotha imoto ehambayo, emileyo ziyayintsontsela” (only those who work hard are being criticised).

One of the most infamous instances of unparliamentary behaviour transpired in November of 2012 when David Maynier (DA), Whip, questioned Lindiwe Sisulu, the Minister of Public Service and Administration, regarding her use of a privately chartered aircrafts whilst she was Minister of Defense. In a futile attempt to circumvent the Speaker’s Rules, Sisulu stated that “in Parliament you can say hogwash and balderdash. Both apply to (David) Maynier,” and ordered Maynier “to sit his flea infested body down.” These remarks were later deemed unparliamentary and Ms Sisulu was asked to withdraw them.

During a debate on the budget vote of President Jacob Zuma in 2010, Malusi Gigaba, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs at the time, accused Mbhazima Shilowa (COPE), the former Deputy President of COPE, of misappropriating funds and that he had a memory of “a rat”, a clear violation of Rule 63 which stipulates that it is unparliamentary to unfavourably refer to other members as animals, either by statement or producing animal noises.

This not the first time that the word "nonsense" has created a furore. In June, 2012, Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille (DA), retorted to her critics remarks, regarding the Democratic Alliance’s efforts with youths in the Western Cape, with the word “nonsense”. When the Chairperson of the NCOP denounced this as “wrong language”, Ms Zille contended that “it is used in parliaments around the world all the time, if the speaker is talking nonsense.”

Offended MPs can request that unparliamentary languages and gestures are withdrawn by the presiding officer on an unconditional basis; if the member neglects this opportunity, he or she will be reprimanded in accordance with the severity of their transaction, resulting in the Member being named, withdrawn from the chamber or suspended (for a period up to 30 days), as was the case of Honourable Groenewald yesterday.

Surprisingly, though, these can be considered rather mundane when juxtaposed with other government’s unparliamentary language. Canadian parliamentarians, for instance, are prohibited from referring to other Members as “a bag of wind” or exclaiming that they are “inspired by forty-rod whiskey”. In New Zealand, House members must refrain from stating that fellow parliamentarians’ “brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides” or that they possess “energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral”. Individuals that are particularly skilled in oratory, however, such as Winston Churchill, have successful evaded the Speaker’s rules with terms such as “terminological inexactitude,” meaning a lie, or being “economical with the truth,” alluding to one’s deceitfulness.

While people have argued that having proper decorum in Parliament is absolutely vital to upholding order, integrity and democracy, unparliamentary behaviour can also be seen as a welcome relief from the sometimes monotonous procedures of the House.


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