Let's insist on MPs of a high calibre

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If there was one lesson we should have learned from the outgoing fifth parliament of democratic South Africa, it is this: the quality of individual MPs we elected into the National Assembly is far more important than what political parties promise in their election manifestos.

Therefore, the submission of candidates' lists by various political parties to the Independent Electoral Commission provides us voters with the opportunity to fully scrutinise what the competing parties are bringing to the table.

The fifth parliament was a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. Starting with the ugly, for much of its term it was embroiled in conflict and chaos simply because the majority of the MPs refused to hold a rogue head of state to account for his numerous transgressions against the constitution. They often chose to use their superior numbers to hold the party line even when it was clear that such a line was wrong. This herd mentality pushed our country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

The good is that there were MPs who, despite being in the minority, used their voices to challenge the abuse of power by the head of state and his executive at the time. When they failed in the House, they used their constitutional right to approach the courts and challenge the executive.

The excellent is that, by the fourth year of the fifth parliament, the majority of MPs had rediscovered their courage and began to carry out their duty of holding those in power to account as it is enshrined in the constitution. This resulted in the reversal of many of the practices that had collapsed state institutions and enabled corruption to thrive.

As we listen to all the parties that would be invading our private and public spaces looking for our votes, let's also closely inspect their lists to see who they are proposing as MPs. The experience of the past five years taught us that we can ill-afford a House full of sycophants, howlers and the corrupt.

The lawmakers in the next National Assembly should be individuals of high quality who are committed to serving our nation. Anything less would condemn us to another era of mediocrity which was the story of our parliament during the Jacob Zuma years.

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