The 2018 political year kicked off heavy with promise, though light on detail, at the governing ANC’s January 8 founding celebrations this weekend. But at Parliament, MPs who return later this month almost immediately face a host of prickly matters – from continuing State Capture inquiries to finalising parliamentary rules on removing a sitting president under Section 89 of the Constitution. If Parliament was steeped in ANC factional battles last year, 2018 is set to prove a similarly trying political year, even amid a more subtle tone under a new ANC leadership dedicated to what over the weekend was described as “unity in action”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
The 2018 political year has started, as it does, with the ANC January 8 statement setting out the governing party’s priorities for the year. Regardless of speculation about President Jacob Zuma also exiting from the Union Buildings now that he’s no longer party president, as well as ANC tensions and factional lobbying under the motto of “unity in action”, there are some holy grails in the ANC: its five-yearly national conferences takes place for the allocated five days, and nothing will detract from its birthday anniversary celebrations.
And so, even though the party-presidential power shifted to Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC December national conference, his Luthuli House predecessor, Jacob Zuma, ensured himself a seat among the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) members at Saturday’s January 8 celebrations. Although former party presidents remain ex-officio NEC members, it’s highly unusual for one to take quite such a visible and prominent seat on the main stage rather than, say, in the VVIP guest area.
Zuma ensuring his visible presence on stage – including photo bombing the ANC top six officials’ traditional raising of a glass of celebratory bubbly even though he’s a known teetotaller – was a subtle reminder: don’t think you’re done with me yet. It’s a signal of the intricate power chess manoeuvres yet to unfold in ANC leadership structures that are almost evenly split between the factions that battled it out ahead of its December 2017 national conference and are now almost equally represented in the party’s top structures. Those moves could unfold in earnest possibly as early as Thursday when the ANC NEC lekgotla starts.
The ANC top structure between national conferences has its work cut out, not only on reconciling the two centres of power – Luthuli House and the Union Buildings – but also on thrashing out how government must give effect to ANC national conference resolutions on land expropriation without compensation, nationalising the South African Reserve Bank, and fee-free higher education in the context of a stagnating economy and a revenue shortfall of just short of R51-billion. Parliament will have a role to play in all of these.
Some issues, such as finding the money for higher education access by students from poor and working class homes earning less than R350,000 a year, may be left to some creative shifting of allocations on the fiscus balance sheet. Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is looking into that, according to his ministry public statements, but details will emerge only in the Budget to be delivered in Parliament in late February.
Other issues require ministries to table draft legislation, and constitutional amendments in Parliament. This includes land expropriation without compensation, now on the governing ANC’s policy agenda following its December 2017 national conference resolution, and reiterated in the January 8 statement that linked it to “a manner that not only meets the constitutional requirement of redress, but also promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security”.
For now, Parliament has two more pressing issues in its in-tray: State Capture inquiries, and finalising parliamentary rules on a president’s removal from office, often colloquially dubbed impeachment.
Both are steeped in the power games of the ANC, where both its top six officials and NEC are split almost 50/50 between those supporting Zuma and those not. As the fault lines run through the governing party, its parliamentary caucus is not immune.
Zuma’s announcement of a commission of inquiry that former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said should happen in her 2016 State of Capture report cannot be delinked from party dynamics. It came as the newly elected ANC NEC held its first meeting met ahead of the January 8 celebrations, and is widely seen as a move to silence calls for Zuma’s resignation as South Africa’s president by an NEC where power has shifted away from him following the December conference.
The parliamentary State Capture inquiries, particularly into Eskom, went ahead in late 2017 despite concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to stall them by Zuma loyalists at Parliament, known as the Group of 10, and also Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, who questioned the status of such inquiries.
Now Zuma has announced a commission which, even if sans the crucial terms of reference, could lead to a resuscitation of the argument that there was no need for such parliamentary inquiries. As recently as his last Q&A in Parliament in early November Zuma cautioned that “those who are calling for it (the commission) are going to regret (doing so). It is going to investigate corruption as long as citizen(s) say this is what we want to be investigated.” In this Zuma has found support from Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who urged Zuma to set broad terms of reference so the commission was “not limited to the issues investigated or identified in the State of Capture report”.
Parliament’s public enterprises committee is set continue its Eskom State Capture inquiry next week, although exact dates and witnesses must still be finalised. What unfolds between now and then, including at the upcoming ANC NEC lekgotla, may yet have a bearing.
Parliament’s assertion of its constitutional oversight mandate in these inquiries has been welcomed as what the ANC calls “an activist Parliament”. But the party’s December gathering also raised questions over the character of such an activist Parliament and whether ANC MPs robustly exercising oversight might not be perceived as having taken on an oppositional role. Parliament’s State Capture inquiries have embarrassed government, exposed the rot and dysfunctionality of SoEs such as Eskom and put proper governance and financial management of these entities on the front burner.
While there may be political debate within the ANC about the parliamentary State Capture inquiries, not so on Parliament’s need to finalise its rules for the removal of a sitting president in terms of Section 89 of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court in December 2017 gave Parliament 120 days to fix its rules in a case brought by the EFF, arguing that Parliament had failed to hold Zuma accountable in the Nkandla debacle.
Those rules on removing are outstanding business for the national legislature, having been dropped from its rules review two years ago. Now the obligation to adopt such rules comes at a time when discussions on Zuma’s exit are rife. Mail & Guardian reported a series of demands, including the appointment of losing party presidential contender Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as president until the 2019 elections, which if met would lead to Zuma’s resignation. Both City Press and Sunday Times reported on behind-the-scenes discussions in the ANC on a Zuma exit from the Union Buildings.
Parliament’s rules committee met last week to kick-start the process, according to a public statement, discussing various options such as the establishment of a panel of judges or a mix of legal experts and MPs or a parliamentary committee. The aim is to finalise draft rules by mid-February and to be submitted for adoption by the National Assembly within the 120 days period given by the Constitutional Court, or before end April.
Once in place, those parliamentary rules up the ante in any moves from within the ANC to remove Zuma from his Union Buildings office. Any haggling over conditionalities of his exit would be moot. If Zuma were to decide not to heed calls to resign, he could face a potentially embarrassing impeachment process in Parliament led, not like various motions of no confidence by the opposition, but his own party. Of course, all this would depend on how the balance of power in an ANC NEC finely poised between those loyal to Zuma, even as they may be recalculating their commitment to the county’s president who no longer is the party president, and those opposed.
All this holds the prospect of 2018 being another tough political year, both outside and inside Parliament. DM
Photo: South African president Jacob Zuma reacts during a question and answer session in Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 22 June 2017. EPA/NIC BOTHMA
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