South Africa

Number 81, Mathole Motshekga, gets relegated to the backbench

By Ranjeni Munusamy 21 June 2013

Mathole Motshekga was possibly the unluckiest person on the Mangaung casualty list. Despite concerted efforts to ingratiate himself with President Jacob Zuma and the dealmakers in his camp, Motshekga ended up as number 81 on the 80-member national executive committee (NEC) elections list. Due to an ANC rule that its Chief Whip in Parliament should be a member of the NEC, it was perhaps just a matter of time before he was cut to size. But Motshekga was in the danger zone long before Mangaung, and Luthuli House could no longer delay swinging the axe. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

ANC Member of Parliament Stone Sizani becomes the 11th Chief Whip of the ANC since 1994 – although most people would only remember those who left with clouds of controversy over them. Tony Yengeni, who served in the position between 1998 and 2001, and Mbulelo Goniwe, who held the post between 2004 and 2006, were accused of fraud and sexual harassment respectively while in charge of the ANC parliamentary caucus.

The ANC announced on Thursday that Sizani would replace Mathole Motshekga as Chief Whip with immediate effect due to the fact that Motshekga was no longer a member of its NEC. At the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung in December, Motshekga only just missed the 80-member cut-off on the elections list, ending up just below Thoko Didiza. He and those immediately below him, including Buti Manamela, Fikile Mbalula and Paul Mashatile, were pushed down the list to accommodate women on the NEC list in line with the ANC’s 50-50 gender policy.

Photo: The NEC list in Mangaung – Mathole Motshekga was unlucky 81st, but still in front of Buti Manamela, Fikile Mbalula and Paul Mashatile.

Motshekga has been in the Chief Whip post since 2009, the point man of Zuma administration to lead the ANC in Parliament. What the ANC did not explain in announcing the change on Thursday was that if this was merely a technicality of no longer being on the NEC, why they waited six months to remove Motshekga from the post.

Perhaps the more plausible explanation is that Motshekga, like so many other leaders in the ANC who were turfed in the past, was removed from his position when he lost his usefulness to his Luthuli House bosses. In the past few weeks, it has been more apparent than ever that the ANC caucus in Parliament is incoherent and disjointed, with no clear political strategy informing its moves.

Even though the ANC holds such an overwhelming majority in Parliament, it has been evident from last year that it is the opposition rather than the ruling party that has been setting the agenda and drawing the most attention in parliamentary debates. When the opposition parties united in an attempt to table a motion of no confidence in the president, the ANC’s response was clumsy and it came across as being on the defensive. Opposition parties are also able to give the impression that they do all the heavy lifting in holding the executive to account in parliamentary committees.

The area Motshekga has battled in most is trying to rein in ANC MPs and getting them to function in tandem. It is clear that Motshekga did not have the gravitas to do so, even before Mangaung, where he lost his position in the NEC. As a result, there have been perennial problems of ANC MPs’ attendance at parliamentary sessions and committee meetings, lax discipline in the caucus and lack of robustness in carrying out their duties.

The lethargy in the caucus is evident in the quality of speeches in Parliament and questions submitted to the executive. While the opposition parties, most notably the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People, are able to use the parliamentary platform effectively to get their points across – even though there allotted time is substantially lower than that of the majority party – many ANC MPs simply go through the motions when delivering speeches or asking questions.

Motshekga himself has been a dull speaker in Parliament, often concentrating on his passion for history, heritage and culture rather than current affairs. He has therefore been unable to inspire others to themselves deliver inspired speeches that raise the bar of public debate.

Opposition parties are able to get maximum media coverage from parliamentary debates because they are able to weave in topical issues into their statements, pepper their speeches with quotable quotes and keep the president and members of his Cabinet on their toes. Opposition MPs are also able to interlace the interests of their constituencies when they speak in Parliament.

ANC MPs, on the other hand, spend most of their time rubber-stamping or praise singing the work of government, when their primary focus should be to exercise oversight on the work of the state and its institutions. There is also a huge disconnect between their statements in Parliament and the constituencies they are meant to represent.

Motshekga, as the Chief Whip, had no strategy as to how to strike a balance between highlighting whatever good is happening in government with effective oversight and accountability. Apart from MPs not taking him seriously, there is also the additional problem of some ministers not respecting Parliament and failing to show up at committee meetings or answering parliamentary questions on time.

Although the writing has been on the wall for some time, Motshekga thought he could save himself if he won over some senior members of his party. Last month the Sunday Times reported that Motshekga’s office had issued a directive to ANC MPs to “go easy” on Cabinet members and not embarrass them with difficult questions. Motshekga denied the story, saying the ANC was determined to ensure an “activist Parliament” and would not seek to “curtail robust and fearless oversight by its own MPs”.

But the lack of a coherent strategy was evident in the ANC’s inability to go toe-to-toe with the opposition, particularly during the recent budget votes in Parliament. The quality of debate has therefore degenerated into ad hominem attacks and puerile exchanges across the House.

With the budget session now over, and political parties stepping into election mode, it would appear that President Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe had lance the boil and remove Motshekga. Their appointment of Sizani caught many by surprise even in the caucus, as it was expected that Finance Portfolio Committee chairman Thaba Mufamadi was most likely to take the post. Sizani, chairman of the rural and agrarian reform portfolio committee and former MEC for education in the Eastern Cape, is not a key player in the Zuma camp and in fact campaigned for Thabo Mbeki at the ANC’s Polokwane conference.

ANC MP Doris Dlakude takes over as the party’s new Deputy Chief Whip from Nkhensani Kubayi, who has been acting in the position for the past year. Although Kubayi did appear to make her mark in Parliament as a strong speaker and her ability to take on opposition MPs, it is believed she was removed as she was seen to be to close to Motshekga. Both Motshekga and Kubayi now become ordinary backbenchers in Parliament.

At the press conference announcing the changes, Mantashe was asked about the future of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, the former Chief Whip’s wife. Minister Motshekga has faced heavy criticism for the management of her portfolio and there have been demands for her removal since the Limpopo textbook delivery crisis last year. However, Mantashe said the more heat a minister faced from the media, the more difficult it was to remove them – providing rare insight into how decisions are made at Luthuli House.

Although on the face of it, it would have made more sense to remove Mrs rather than Mr Motshekga, the minister still has uses to her bosses as head of the ANC Women’s League. She was extremely useful ahead of Mangaung in delivering the support of the Women’s League and it is therefore difficult to dump her six months later.

Mathole Motshekga has, however, outlived any usefulness he might have had in the past and can now focus on his passion for heritage, culture and history until next year’s election. It is doubtful that he would return to Parliament in the next term.

Once again the ANC has shown its ability to chew up and spit out its own. In the case of Mathole Motshekga, though, there are not many people who would mourn his relegation to the backbench. DM

Photo: Then ANC chief-whip Mathole Motshekga and Basic Educations Minister Angie Motshega took to the dance floor during the entertainment by FreshlyGround at the gala dinner after the State of the Nation Address held at the marguee within Parliament, 9 February 2012. (GCIS)

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