As the sixth Parliament was sworn-in on Wednesday, the matter of nominating a speaker and a president eventually took centre stage. Both the ANC and the DA bungled their paperwork for each candidate, leading to a five-hour delay in announcing Thandi Modise as the winner. In the downtime, struggle songs echoed through the chamber.
The ANC and EFF were the main cheerleaders, belting out all the classics. The red berets even had Ringo Madlingozi in their ranks, and he wasn’t shy when it came to warming up the old vocal chords. However, across the chamber, there was some discontent coming to the boil.
The argument against struggle songs in Parliament
Belinda Bozzili is an MP for the Democratic Alliance. She had to grin and bear the delay in proceedings, and the politician certainly wasn’t in the mood for a song and dance. Bozzili took to her Twitter account on Wednesday to register his grievance with the presence of struggle songs in the National Assembly:
ANC trying to "claim" Parliament as their own by using a recess to dominate the Chamber through sound. Their persistent and relentlessly deafening singing of struggle songs is really irritating.
— Belinda Bozzoli (@belbozz) May 22, 2019
As you can tell by the comment-to-like ratio, this expression was met with all the fire and brimstone of the Twitter community. Bozzoli – who is also a sociology professor – has been criticised for failing to understand the cultural significance of struggle songs. She continued to berate the practice late on Wednesday evening:
“They have no idea that this is, and is fully intended to be, a shared place for the exchange of ideas and opinions. In seeking to dominate it they essentially being undemocratic.”
“[The ANC] exchange gestures during songs with the EFF. You can see how irresistible the call of nationalism is. Its symbolic and non-literate forms (songs, dance, gestures) seem to matter more than clever words and well-crafted arguments.”
That last sentence in particular has done a lot to irk the social media community. Bozzoli’s argument is that struggle songs do not contribute to the democratic intentions of Parliament. She also suggests that they are exclusionary, and a practice only properly enjoyed by the ANC and the EFF.
In defence of struggle songs in Parliament
The MP has made her point in unflinching terms. There are arguably merits to the argument, and plenty of South Africans will be agreeing with what the DA representative is getting at. But there’s another side of this coin…
Struggle songs represent one of the greatest triumphs over an oppresive regime in human history. When black citizens had everything taken away from them, their voices remained. Through protest, democratic action and the unifying power of song, entire communities were able to usher each other through the darkest of times.
Identity and celebration
The expression of song is a uniquely African quirk of politics, too. In a landscape where parties are constantly at war with each other – or themselves – musical celebrations are more than welcome. They encourage togetherness and foster a truce in Parliament, if only for a few fleeting moments.
If Bozzoli wanted to make this point, she could have timed it better: There was barely anything to do in the long wait between the swearing-in ceremonies and the nomination of a house speaker. If there was ever a time to have a song and a dance – a practice so deeply ingrained in South African identity – it was on Wednesday.