Parliament is a political institution in many ways. Not only internal party-political dynamics, but across party lines. And sometimes the broader shifts in South Africa’s body politics emerge in the most bizarre way.
The EFF asked Wednesday’s chief whips’ forum to reduce the once-a-month question session for Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza to a once-a-term slot, or four times a year like the president. Insiders say there was no resolution to the matter, which was referred to Parliament’s rules committee. It might just die there; the committee members carry a heavy workload in other committees and meetings must be squeezed into a heavy schedule. Or it may not.
Hours later in the National Assembly DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen raised the matter in a follow-up to his original question as to what mechanisms Mabuza, also leader of government business or the liaison between the executive and legislature, put in place to ensure Cabinet ministers and their deputies appear to answer questions.
Steenhuisen said he was “most disturbed” about the EFF proposal to lessen the number of Mabuza’s Q&A slots as this reduced executive accountability.
“Have you met any member of the EFF to discuss this rather bizarre request?”
The EFF points of order came fast and furious.
“I think the member is disingenuous and rather ask it to us. We will remove your mayor in Nelson Mandela (Bay Metro),” said EFF MP Elsabe Ntlangwini.
Describing the DA question as “boring”, EFF MP and whip Hlengiwe Mkhalipi later said:
“It’s very opportunistic to raise this matter, which is a matter of the chief whips’ forum.”
But Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli ruled the question in order. And Mabuza, in the roundabout way that seems to have become his style on the podium, answered.
“I’m aware you are still discussing this matter where you are discussing this… My opinion is that you must understand the members of the executive are responsible in between to run the affairs of the country. As much as they are accountable to Parliament, they must also do their work and service their people.”
So if a chat with the EFF slots into this categorisation, it may just be in his political in-tray away from the national legislature. But Mabuza didn’t actually say whether he’s met anyone from the EFF for discussions, although he’s available for Q&As.
“Well, you can have me as many times as you want. If you want me, I’m available. Any time. I won’t run away.”
The EFF proposal in Parliament on Wednesday comes after the Sunday Times reported that EFF leader Julius Malema had set in motion a process to meet the ANC.
“I’m not saying we are going into any form of relationship with the ANC, but I am saying to you, realistically, we are not far from each other. The semantics seem to be differing now on the land question. We’ll find each other,” Malema is quoted as saying.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s so-called new dawn – the EFF would claim credit for its role in the departure of former president Jacob Zuma, whom it called the “constitutional delinquent” – has opened up the political landscape as has not been possible in the past nine years.
On 27 February, in an unprecedented move, and in stark contrast to just a year earlier, the ANC supported with some of its own amendments the EFF motion for a constitutional amendment for expropriation without compensation. That issue has hit the headlines since the ANC December 2017 national conference resolved on expropriation without compensation, one of the cardinal pillars of the party.
The EFF has long promised the ANC that it would get its 6% to reach the constitutionally required threshold to amend the Constitution. Its offer in February 2017 was defeated by the ANC, leading to Zuma’s sharp criticism of his own ANC parliamentary caucus a few days later.
And that so-called new dawn, which in no small way came about by Mabuza’s manoeuvrings in the bruising run-up to the ANC December 2017 national conference that saw Ramaphosa elected by the slimmest of margins, is causing ructions for the opposition parties. They came together in recent years amid some tricky negotiations to form a united front in what largely, but not exclusively, was an anti-Zuma ticket. He’s gone, and the possibilities are wide open.
The EFF-DA bromance to keep councils out of ANC control following the 2016 local government elections is faltering, particularly over the vote of no confidence brought in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Mayor Athol Trollip.
Officially the reason is the DA’s opposition to the EFF land expropriation without compensation policy, supported by the ANC, but rejected by the DA. But it’s more complicated. Trollip has a certain reputation of wanting, and getting, his way. It has grated relations between the DA and EFF, which recently withheld its votes for the budget adjustments. Relations between the EFF and DA appear less fraught in Johannesburg and Tshwane, although EFF MPs are not above reminding the DA that it has a role to play to keep Herman Mashaba in the Johannesburg mayoral office and Solly Msimanga in Tshwane.
It’s complicated, and how it develops remains to be seen. But elections 2019 are on many minds. In mid-June, Parliament rises for a two-month recess, described as an extended constituency period. Talk in at least two committees this week pointed out the nearing end of this Parliament, the fifth.
In his Wednesday Q&A slot Mabuza showed how quickly he learns the ropes. The discomfort of the former Mpumalanga premier’s maiden parliamentary question session was gone – or maybe it had something to do with the red pen he was holding for most of the time at the podium.
An awkward question from DA MP David Maynier on whether he supported the ANC resolution on nationalising the South African Reserve Bank even though its integrity was key to staving off a ratings agency downgrade was simply not answered.
“You are trying your luck on this question. This is a new question… I am not going to comment on the Reserve Bank.”
Mabuza was more approachable on an EFF question that, without the usually strident anti-corruption tone, asked how he would “take to task” the Guptas and their business partner, Zuma’s son Duduzane, who had organised a visit to Russia, while pointing out that the trip had been declared in the provincial legislature.
“Whether I’ve been given a lift to hospital does not mean the Guptas, if they’ve done something wrong, will not be brought to book,” was the deputy president’s reply.
Not quite statesman-like, but definitely an astute political operator, Mabuza is a politician to watch. DM
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