SPEAK CLEARLY AND SINCERELY

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Caucus Leader in the Gauteng Legislature

After 50 days of bluster and denial, Humphrey Mmemezi finally stepped down as Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC.

In his resignation statement he said that he had “at all times sought to conduct myself ethically and with utmost integrity”.

His extravagant personal purchases on a government credit card “were an error of judgement”.

It is understandable that a disgraced politician will seek to minimise his culpability.

But the otherwise damning report of the Gauteng Legislature’s Privileges and Ethics Committee was rather delicate in its description of his conduct.

It found that he had “at the very least been very economical with the truth.”

This really meant that he had lied to the House in response to a DA question.

There is a parliamentary convention that members are not directly accused of lying in the House.

Winston Churchill famously talked about “terminological inexactitude”, which has become a popular euphemism for lying and deception.

You have to be subtle if you want to insult a member as direct language will be ruled out as unparliamentary.

The Gauteng Legislature Speaker has outlawed words and phrases like “Hou jou bek”, “nice doggy”, “racist”, “Heil Hitler”, “clowns and idiots”, “murderer”, “klonkie” and “coward”.

Forbidden too was: “The sale of young people under the age of 18 to men who look much like yourselves in the opposition benches.”

This isn’t as bad as being called “a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him”.

This was what former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating called then Opposition Leader John Howard.

There is a lot to be said for civility in debate. Bad words can lead to bad behaviour, and there are parliaments where members punch each other.

But sometimes we need to be direct and call a spade a spade.

Evasive language is used far too often, as when problems are called “challenges”.

The Gauteng Health Department talked about “cash flow challenges” when companies went bankrupt and hospital services were disrupted because of non-payment.

Another favourite when failing to deliver is “capacity constraints”.

When staff or budget is cut we get “downsizing”, “realignment of resources” or “efficiency savings”.

Political speech, according to George Orwell, is “largely the defence of the indefensible… it consists largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”.

This is because “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns to long words and exhausted idioms.”

This explains ANC policy documents that are typically long on Marxist jargon and evasive language.

After much debate at its policy conference, delegates decided to support the “second phase of the transition” rather than the “second transition”.

And this was part of “a continuing transition from Apartheid colonialism to a National Democratic Society”.

The concept of a National Democratic Revolution has been used to attack the judiciary and the Constitution as not sufficiently “transformed”.

But the real obstacle to change in areas like land redistribution has been monumental inefficiency.

Real solutions to our most pressing problems require clarity of thought expressed without evasion.

Success will come if we all speak clearly and sincerely.

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