Parliamentary Intrigue

ANC’s choices for top posts in Parliament represent a fascinating mix of factional interests

By Marianne Merten 21 May 2019

Those supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa clinched the political leadership with the Speaker’s position and that of ANC chief whip. The other side, associated with the radical economic transformation rhetoric espoused by Ace Magashule, has the powerful ‘chair of chairs’ position, which will be occupied by Nomvula Mokonyane, the controversial minister fingered for corruption at the Zondo State Capture commission.

National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise, now the ANC’s choice as Speaker, walked arm-in-arm with incumbent Speaker Baleka Mbete from Monday’s ANC special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. Both smiled broadly — as presiding officers they have worked together for the past five years — and declined to take questions.

It had been a short post-lunch session of about 90 minutes before it became clear the ANC special NEC meeting had finalised its choices for important parliamentary positions — and the premier candidate for North West. It’s understood not all issues were finalised, but enough were dealt with to move forward.

And so, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule made the announcements, including that North West Premier Job Mokgoro would stay put in the interest of stability.

At the right time, we will interact again with the matter.”

While women’s names had been raised again — the ANC Women’s League earlier in May ostensibly objected to Mokgoro because it meant seven of eight ANC premiers were male — none was on the candidates’ list for provincial legislatures, and thus were ineligible. Meanwhile, ANC MPL Cameron Dugmore was named leader of the opposition in the DA-controlled Western Cape.

The gender issue in the North West wrangle is widely seen as a proxy battle between the factions of the ANC. The parliamentary selections, however, seem aimed at getting everyone a slice of the cake.

Bluntly put, in ANC factional politicking those supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa clinched the political leadership at Parliament with the Speaker’s position and that of ANC chief whip. The other side, associated with the radical economic transformation (RET) rhetoric espoused by Magashule, has the chair of chairs position, which holds formidable sway in committees that are central to Parliament’s work. It remains to be seen how the factional chips fall when the various committee chairs are announced.

As political leader of the National Assembly, Modise will have much clout to set the tone and direction of Parliament. As Speaker she will, for example, chair the programming committee that sets the parliamentary calendar and determines ministerial question time and the presidential Q&As in the House alongside the legislative programme.

Modise’s announcement as the ANC’s choice for Speaker comes as the rambunctious EFF caucus increases to 44 MPs from 25 on the back of just-above 10% poll support. Modise has a reputation as a bit of a disciplinarian — her chairing of the NCOP brooked no nonsense. But she’s also known as a securocrat, and that may turn up some interesting dynamics as the constitutional default position for Parliament is that of an open, accessible, transparent and accountable institution.

But Modise will come up against Nomvula Mokonyane as “chair of chairs”, officially the House Chairperson of chairpersons of committees, who oversees and directs the work of committees, including legislation and resources for oversight, be it travel or public hearings. It’s a powerful position, and one that also comes with the authority to close committee meetings that take place in public, according to Section 59 of the Constitution.

For example, the previous incumbent Cedric Frolick’s directive to four committees, including public enterprises, home affairs and mineral resources, saw Parliament hold its inquiry into State Capture at Eskom in 2017/18 that returned damning findings against at least two public enterprise ministers and also find the resources to hold countrywide public hearings into whether a constitutional amendment for expropriation without compensation had the backing of the public.

Put into this mix an untested chief whip for the ANC with the surprise announcement of Eastern Cape public works MEC Pemmy Majodina, known to be pro-Ramaphosa. Staying put as deputy is Doris Dlakude.

Majodina must not only direct a divided ANC parliamentary caucus, but also work with opposition parties in the chief whips’ forum to smooth out parliamentary pitfalls to facilitate the smooth running not only of the House, but myriad inter-party concerns from parking to the sitting arrangements in the House.

Majodina is the ANC’s 13th chief whip in 25 years of a democratic Parliament.

When the announcement of her appointment was almost immediately followed by criticism, Magashule emphasised it had been a collective decision.

She’s qualified. She does fit. Let’s give her a chance… We have absolute confidence (in her).”

But Magashule also had spoken up for Mokonyane, saying she should not be prejudged.

Things are in process… As a collective, this is the decision we are making. And I don’t think the collective can be wrong. There wasn’t a lot of discussion.”

And Magashule endorsed 66-year-old Amos Masondo, who takes over Modise’s job as NCOP chairperson, as a seasoned and disciplined cadre who “with his credentials, he can drive that House”. With outgoing Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas the deputy, this new team also includes NCOP chief whip Seiso Mohai, the permanent delegate from the Free State who has held that position since 2017.

The parliamentary appointments were “a unanimous decision”, Magashule said. And that it had taken a relatively short 90 minutes to come to this conclusion indicates at least some level of prior behind-the-scenes agreement.

Strictly speaking, the ANC must wait until Wednesday to have Modise elected as Speaker in the National Assembly in a process chaired by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. All 400 MPs first must be sworn in. But given that the ANC holds a majority of 230 out of 400 seats in the House, it’s a formality, as is Ramaphosa’s election as president later on Wednesday afternoon.

We will try and convince everybody with our position, but ultimately it’s about the majority vote,” said Magashule after Monday’s special ANC NEC.

That’s not to say there may not be some parliamentary politicking with one or other opposition party proposing its own candidate(s). It would go to a vote, but, given the numbers, the ANC would carry the day.

But it’s a tight timetable from Wednesday’s swearing-in of MPs, Saturday’s inauguration, the announcement of the Cabinet and swearing in, the ANC and Cabinet lekgotlas in June to finalise plans of action, to the State of the Nation Address pencilled in for 20 June. And somewhere before 20 June, Parliament also has to pass some 40 budget votes to meet the statutory deadline for the adoption of the Budget.

It’s game on. DM

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