The march towards the new Parliament is unrelenting. If MPs aren’t sworn in on Wednesday 22 May the president can’t be elected in the National Assembly and can’t pick his Cabinet, which comes, with two exceptions, from parliamentary benches.
With the 8 May 2019 election results formally declared, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) did its calculations of legislature seats in line with electoral support.
From there, based on the lists of candidates the political parties submitted before the poll, the IEC finalised the lists for the 400 incoming MPs representing 14 political parties in the National Assembly, and also for the nine provincial legislatures.
On Wednesday those lists were handed to Parliament via Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. The head of the judiciary in South Africa had a stern reminder to all public representatives, and public service functionaries, of their constitutional duty to redress lingering inequalities rather than enjoy their own comfort and privilege.
“We dare not be defocused from the primary responsibility that people do not continue to swim in the injustices of the past,” said the Chief Justice.
“We over-celebrate the power we have. We are too protective of our position and some, possibly, get tempted to use state resources for purposes they were never intended to. Let’s sharpen our focus on what matters the most… Injustice is unsustainable.”
Mogoeng recounted how in a public interaction he was asked whether he was not ashamed to administer the oath of office to incoming public representatives with clouds over their heads.
His response was that the oath of office was not an inconvenience, but a public pledge of service under the Constitution and the law. However, given the separation of powers, there are limitations to what he could do as head of the judicial branch of state:
“I am not ashamed in the execution of my responsibility… Political parties must clean up their own act.”
And so the responsibility falls on the ANC, whose factional battles have played out in public, in competing lists of potential Cabinet ministers and of key political parliamentary posts such as Speaker and ANC chief whip.
While the name of House Chairperson Thoko Didiza as Speaker has come up repeatedly for some time — she enjoys the respect of both sides of the House and has kept a firm but fair hand on sometimes turbulent sittings — Gwede Mantashe, the mineral resources minister, has been touted for that post.
In some circles of the ANC, the argument is made that the Speaker “traditionally” is the ANC national chairperson. But there is no such tradition, and it is only a coincidence that Baleka Mbete, while she was ANC national chairperson, was Speaker. That Mbete, as one of the ANC Top Six officials, was also Speaker caused much consternation in opposition benches. Previous Speakers such as Frene Ginwala or Max Sisulu were not officials.
The Speaker, with the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), sets the tone and direction of Parliament, the legislative branch of state, as well as in relation to the executive, which Parliament is constitutionally mandated to oversee and hold to account.
The ANC chief whip is central to ensuring the party’s parliamentary caucus toes the line. The governing party has gone through 12 chief whips in 25 years of a democratic Parliament, but the current incumbent, Jackson Mthembu, is widely respected across the House.
The ANC may have some tough calls in Parliament, where as governing party it would also appoint its MPs to chair committees. Its lists have cleared out much institutional knowledge and experience with, for example, just seven of its 38 committee chairpersons returning.
And the ANC may well also pay some thought to who should be the chairperson of the watchdog on public spending, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa). African People’s Convention (APC) MP Temba Godi has very ably chaired the committee for a decade, but has failed to secure enough votes to return in the 8 May poll. Traditionally, Scopa is chaired by an opposition MP. The thinking in parliamentary corridors is that perhaps the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) or even the IFP may be considered.
But the most pressing task for the governing ANC, which on the campaign trail repeatedly promised to clean up and end corruption and State Capture, is to figure out its own public representative lists.
In the wake of a sharp public blow-back over the controversial names that many say fly in the face of that clean-up promise, the ANC integrity commission was called in. It is on public record the integrity team has raised the red flag over several names, but no discussions have yet taken place.
Such discussions could happen from Sunday when the ANC Top Six are set to meet before another ANC special National Executive Committee (NEC). Depending on what unfolds there, a political process could well change the ANC MPs — or not.
As it stood on Wednesday, the final list of 230 incoming ANC MPs features many who’ve sparked controversy and cast a shadow over the governing party. It includes ANC Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini, who was found to have lied in court during her term as social development minister, as had Malusi Gigaba while home affairs minister.
And there are those implicated in State Capture at the Zondo commission of inquiry such as Nomvula Mokonyane, currently environmental affairs minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, the former mineral resources minister, and ANC MP Cedrick Frolick in relation to Bosasa.
There are others such as Faith Muthambi, the former communications minister who leaked Cabinet information to the Guptas and whose conduct the 2016 parliamentary SABC inquiry sharply criticised, recommending that then-president Jacob Zuma consider her dismissal.
The lists are the outcome of ANC factional trade-offs, although the official ANC line is that branches had nominated their preferred public representatives and all due processes had been followed before submission to the IEC.
And one argument already made by those wanting to stay on as public representatives is that branches — these are regarded as the central organisational building blocks in ANC mythology — had nominated them, therefore no one could “unelect” them.
At this stage, the public representative lists cannot be changed. A political process can lead to individuals informing Parliament they are no longer available; any vacancy would then be filled by the next person on the list. Such a process may unfold right up to Wednesday, if the ANC special NEC and any other discussions persuade one or other ANC public representatives to withdraw from coming to Parliament.
The other 13 political parties represented in Parliament seem somewhat more settled.
The IFP’s 14-strong parliamentary caucus, again, is headed by elder party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who at 90 is also the oldest MP. Among returning MPs are chief whip Narend Singh, Mkhuleko Hlengwa and Liezl van der Merwe. Four of the 14 IFP MPs are under 35.
Of the Freedom Front Plus’s MPs, all but two are male. One of the women, Tammy Wessels, who is married to fellow MP Wouter Wessels, is apparently changing back to her maiden name of Breedt.
The DA’s 84-strong caucus is led by party leader Mmusi Maimane, and includes the youngest MP, at 23 years old, Sibongiseni Ngcobo, even as it has been criticised for being male-heavy.
Some political parties have few options: Only the top two people return. For the United Democratic Movement (UDM) that’s leader Bantu Holomisa and his deputy Nqabayomi Kwankwa. For Cope, it’s leader Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy Willie Madisha. Ditto, the African Independent Congress (AIC).
GOOD national co-ordinator Shaun August, former Cape Town DA chief whip, is coming to Parliament with party leader Patricia de Lille. It’s De Lille’s second stint as a leader of a party, previously the Independent Democrats, after first coming to the national legislature as an MP for the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
Wednesday’s swearing-in by the Chief Justice, the election of the Speaker and of the president are important milestones in constituting the new legislative and executive spheres of the state. And while the focus will quickly fall on the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as president, and the announcement of a new, potentially streamlined Cabinet, the real hard slog unfolds in Parliament.
Forty budget votes must be passed in June in line with the statutory time frame of four months between the tabling of the Budget and its adoption. It’s a tough, high-pressure time in any given year, but even more so this time around with the number of Budget virgins in the parliamentary benches, and not only in ANC seats.
But the job must be done — 20 June is the date pencilled in for Ramaphosa’s post-election State of the Nation Address, the occasion when he’s expected to outline his administration’s plan for unity, growth and renewal — if all between now and then goes according to (his) plans. DM
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