Daily Maverick

Motshekga, his political star on the wane, out as justice committee chair; Zuma’s retirement’s looking cushy

Jacob Zuma in Parliament, State of the Nation 2015 speech (Greg Nicolson)

Sometimes, despite parliamentary niceties and entrenched party-political institutional cultures, the axe falls. Not even Mathole Motshekga’s status as ANC National Executive Committee member could protect him this week from being ditched as justice committee chairperson. It’s one of several twists and turns that happened away from the spectacle of Parliament, found in the pages of the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports, the institutional record of work that also included recommendations for former president Jacob Zuma’s pension.

The tale of Mathole Motshekga in many ways illustrates how ANC institutional culture unfolds. And how even after long stretches of seemingly being allowed to act according to one’s individual wont, there comes a breaking point.

In Motshekga’s case, it is reliably understood, it was getting the ANC MPs on the justice committee to exclude the opt-out clause from the controversial Traditional Courts Bill – it allows a rural South African citizen to decide whether or not to be adjudged by a traditional court – with which Motshekga disagreed.

That snapping moment came against the backdrop of long-standing unresolved factional divisions among the ANC MPs on the justice committee that have, embarrassingly, been on repeated public display at committee meetings in recent years.

In 2009 Motshekga, husband of long-serving Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, was announced as ANC Chief Whip after arriving at Parliament following that year’s elections, which brought Jacob Zuma as president to the Union Buildings.

It was seen as a surprise appointment given Motshekga’s lack of parliamentary experience, but he was a firm Zuma supporter. As happens in the factionalised politicking of the governing party, by the ANC 2012 Mangaung national conference the ground had shifted: Motshekga did not return to the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), the highest decision-making structure between conferences.

There was much speculation that Motshekga would be removed from the Chief Whip position; losing his NEC post left him vulnerable after several years of in-house grumblings over his management style. That removal came six months later in June 2013, announced by then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe in the ANC Chief Whip offices in Parliament. And Mantashe made sure to tell the media that the ANC had waited to make the announcement until speculation had died down to ensure the party was not seen to be doing what others were saying.

Motshekga remained as a backbencher in Parliament, although not for long. Returning to Parliament again after the May 2014 elections, he was appointed to chair the justice committee. He became engaged in the factional battles amid a disenchantment with the Zuma grouping that ultimately paid off – he was re-elected to the NEC at the 2017 December ANC national conference.

And it was that NEC position that this week ensured he was not cast back into the parliamentary wilderness as happened in 2013. As NEC member, there was a committee chairpersonship to be secured. And it was – as co-chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament, in a straight swap that saw veteran ANC MP Vincent Smith formally announced as justice committee chairperson.

Smith has become something of a fixer for the ANC parliamentary caucus. Understandably so, as he’s one of a few on the governing party’s parliamentary benches with institutional memory and experience around two decades or longer. Smith came to the national legislature in 1999.

In 2016 he chaired the parliamentary SABC inquiry that kick-started a governance and editorial turnaround at the public broadcaster. He chairs the auditor-general committee that rather rapidly steered through Parliament the law that gives the Auditor-General more teeth, including the power to refer what he finds to law enforcement and other investigative agencies. Smith also co-chairs the constitutional review committee that is dealing with a constitutional amendment for land expropriation without compensation.

That committee is currently processing submissions, both written and given at countrywide public hearings, and will hold another round of targeted hearings before finalising its report on the constitutional amendment question by the end of September.

Once the House adopts the report, any constitutional amendment would come before the justice committee that traditionally has processed these. And moving Motshekga from that committee now, even as questions have been raised about this replacement just months before elections in 2019, is considered vital to assure integrity of any such amendment proceedings. Confidence in Motshekga’s ability to chair the justice committee had waned, not only because of the divisions amid ANC MPs, and also acrimony with opposition MPs, but also the work track record, which on a quick scan indicates there’s a backlog.

The removal of Motshekga has been rumoured on the parliamentary grapevine since last week. Certainly, the removal of the opt-out clause from the Traditional Courts Bill sparked criticism, including from Cosatu’s parliamentary liaison office, calling for the re-insertion of the opt-out clause, and others.

We call upon the ANC to reject the deletions of these human rights and gender equality clauses… The Bill is now fatally flawed and simply unconstitutional,” the Cosatu office said.

The reality hit home on Tuesday morning when the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC), Parliament’s record of work, was published. The party political and parliamentary backstory was in a three-line announcement under the heading “Membership of Committees”.

What also emerged in Tuesday’s ATC are the recommendations with regard to Zuma’s pension provision. In the democratic checks and balances, public office-bearers’ salaries are determined by an independent commission whose recommendations are approved by the president. Recommendations with regard to the president must be approved by the National Assembly, usually a simple resolution, although it’s unclear when last this was done. In 2015 the Freedom Front Plus’ proposal of a R1 salary for Zuma was rejected by the ANC on the back of its numbers – and the president got his R2.75-million annual salary.

Parliamentary papers show that Presidency Director-General Cassius Lubisi at the start of August 2018 wrote for advice on Zuma’s pension benefits to the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office-Bearers chairperson Judge Cagney Musi, who in turn provided this to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete on 22 August.

From the day after Zuma vacated office – that was on St Valentine’s Day 2018 in a broadcast to the nation – the recommendation is that “a taxable pension benefit be paid to him equal to 100% of the total annual remuneration (salary and allowance) payable to him the day prior to his retirement”.

And upon his death, “with effect from the day of his death, a taxable pension benefit be paid to his widow or widows, dependent or nominee, including his or her estate, as he may elect, equal to 50% pension benefit payable to the former President at the time of his death”.

And any “increase to these above benefits should be linked to the increase of the sitting President’s salary”, the commission recommended.

Effectively, what this means is that Zuma will not just receive whatever due in return from payments made to a retirement fund. If the National Assembly processes this matter without any changes, a minimum pension would be based on 2017 Budget estimates of national expenditure salary applicable before the presidential retirement. And that means Zuma will receive a pension of at least R3.4-million a year. DM

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