South Africa

Parliamentary Diary: Situation fluid, expect anything and everything

By Marianne Merten 2 March 2016

Within a few hundred metres in the Parliamentary precinct in an hour from 14:00 on Wednesday three events unfolded. ANC chief whip Stone Sizani quit (officially, to be urgently redeployed to a responsibility to be announced; informally, this is the ambassadorship to Germany) and ministers and deputy ministers rushed to an impromptu ANC caucus. Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko was trying to explain why the Hawks are investigating the SARS “rogue unit” without any reference to a charge or legislation. By 15:00, everyone but Sizani was heading to the House to attend question time by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

It became clear something was afoot when several posh cars queued just past 14:00 to drop ministers off directly in front of the Poorthuis Parliamentary entrance, including Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant decided to walk from the presidential Tuynhuys offices, where earlier Cabinet committees meet. Rushing from their offices at 120 Plein Street were Transport Minister Dipuo Peters and deputy agricultural minister Bheki Cele. They all headed to the Old Assembly Chamber for an impromptu ANC caucus.

According to the official statement by the ANC in Parliament, the caucus “congratulated comrade Sizani and paid tribute to his excellent leadership of the majority party in Parliament since 2013”.

Sizani picked his 62nd birthday to leave Parliament for 10 weeks of training with the international relations department before heading off to Germany. He had lasted about two-and-a-half years, the average length of stay in office for a chief whip of the ANC, of which there have been 11 incumbents since 1994.

Some ANC chief whips stayed for less than a year, like Nathi Mthethwa (2008), who went on to serve in the Cabinet, and Isaac Mogase, who served from November 2007 to January 2008. Others left under a cloud, like Mbulelo Goniwe (2004-2006), who was disciplined for sexual harassment, and Tony Yengeni (1998-2001), who served jail time for fraud after not disclosing a car discount from one of the controversial arms deal bidders.

Others returned to the backbenches, like Nyami Booi (2008-2009) and Mathole Motshekga (2009 to mid-2013), now the justice committee chairman.

The first chief whip was Makhenkesi Stofile (1994-1997), who became Eastern Cape premier and then sports minister, while former ANC chief whip Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (2001-2002) also joined the Cabinet, first to head correctional services, then defence.

Across Parliament Avenue, another chief whip-turned-minister, Nhleko (chief whip 2002-2004) persistently sidestepped questions about what charge the Hawks are using to probe the SARS “rogue unit”, and on what law the elite investigators are basing their investigation, which included sending 27 questions about the unit to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

“You can’t have a charge unless you completed an investigation. There are possible violations under the laws which would have been transgressed,” said Nhleko, who did not name SARS commissioner Tom Moyane as the man whose complaint kick-started the Hawks probe in May 2015. Nhleko initially said the “complainant is SARS”, subsequently adding that the person who laid the charge was the “accounting officer of SARS”. That, of course, is Moyane.

Courtesy of City Press, it is in the public domain that the Hawks are investigating a count of “contravening of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications-related Information Act” as part of “Brooklyn CAS 427/5/2015”.

Also courtesy of City Press, it is known Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza (a.k.a Berning) wrote an “information note” on the investigation to State Security Minister David Mahlobo. Asked about this after Nhleko said the Hawks report to him, the police minister turned to Mahlobo, who was sitting at his side, and quipped that his Cabinet colleague “should be investigated” for “encroaching” on his police turf. That was it.

Then it was 15:00 and time for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s question time on racism and state-owned entities (SOEs) in the House. True to form, he stayed on message: there were just a few racists in South Africa, and where they were found, they must be tackled – hard. “Government has taken concrete steps to rid our country of racism. We need to (be) mobilising the people of this country,” he said.

And there was just a hint of impatience when Ramaphosa responded to DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s question on progress on dealing with SOEs. The possible merger of the troubled SAA, which would be insolvent without billions of rands of government guarantees, with SA Express was raised in the budget, which also stressed SOEs needed to be well-run, efficient and contribute to South Africa’s development. Ramaphosa said many SOEs were well and, while others faced management, leadership and financial front challenges, this was being dealt with. “Please do not run ahead of yourself. Just be patient until we come with a proper announcement,” he told the DA leader.

The questions to the minister in the economic cluster almost passed without raising any eyebrows, until DA MP David Maynier raised the Hawks SARS probe, and related political and other battles between Gordhan and Moyane, in a follow-up question.

“I’m looking for a question… melodrama is the forte of Mr Maynier,” said the finance minister in his typical deadpan manner. Adding that he was appointed finance minister by the president “in the national interest”, Gordhan said: “I intend to continue to do it.” DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at Nedlac’s labour relations indaba in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 4 November 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA.


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