Unity and bonhomie were on display by the ANC at its special parliamentary caucus on Tuesday, where “Phakama Ramaphosa, ixesha lifikile… Unity, unity” – the Nasrec ANC national conference party renewal song, loosely translated as “Rise, (President Cyril) Ramaphosa, your time has come” – resounded through the closed doors of the meeting venue, the Old Assembly Chamber.
About an hour later, caucus done and dusted, came an impromptu media briefing by the new ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina. The message? The whip would be cracked, and ANC MPs would have to work to implement the governing party’s manifesto, with oversight being done “smarter and faster”.
But it was Ramaphosa who, after formally registering as MP, slipped quietly into the suite of offices of the ANC chief whip, including V16, which doubles as the ANC meeting room at Parliament. Not even minutes later, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule moved past journalists in the same direction. What was discussed there, behind closed doors and away from public ears, is what will matter.
Word on the parliamentary grapevine from early on Tuesday was that outgoing Speaker Baleka Mbete had withdrawn as MP on the eve of Wednesday’s swearing-in. ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe did not respond to various SMS and WhatsApp requests for comment, nor several calls, over a period of four hours. When finally he was reached, he declined to comment, saying that a statement would be issued.
That statement officially confirmed that Mbete, who had served as deputy president under Kgalema Motlanthe from September 2008 to the 2009 elections, would not become a backbencher. Nor would Malusi Gigaba return as MP.
Gigaba had resigned in mid-November 2018 in the wake of running out of legal options to appeal a finding that he had lied in court, and a leaked solo sex clip. Gigaba’s decision came 24 hours after he was spotted in a one-on-one conversation with ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte immediately after Monday’s special ANC NEC.
And some other surprises emerged. Former Standing Committee of Finance chairperson, ANC MP Yunus Carrim, who was too low down the election list to return, has returned – this time to the NCOP. The call had come at short notice.
The ANC is on public record that it would only announce the chairpersons of committees – they determine the pace and direction of MPs’ work – after Ramaphosa announced his Cabinet, following Saturday’s presidential inauguration.
Speculation about the size and composition of this Cabinet remains rife, with not only ANC factional lobby lists making the rounds but also economists, commentators and others weighing in.
Little of certainty has emerged except for Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza dismissing speculation he’d not return to the Union Buildings – “Well, no, all the speculations are wrong,” he said on the sidelines of Monday’s special ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) – and Nomvula Mokonyane definitely not returning to Cabinet.
The outgoing environmental affairs minister is coming to Parliament as House Chairperson of chairpersons of committees, or chair of chairs, a powerful and strategic position in the national legislature.
Cosatu on Tuesday welcomed the new ANC parliamentary leadership, but cautioned there would be no honeymoon.
“Parliament was found badly wanting during the explosion of State Capture. MPs paid greater value to pleasing their leaders than to listening to the complaints of ordinary voters and the demands of workers,” said Cosatu’s statement.
“Cosatu hopes the ANC will not reward those deeply compromised former ministers and MPs, who betrayed the hopes of the poor, with appointments as parliamentary committee chairpersons and other positions of trust.”
The EFF also held its first caucus on Tuesday with 19 more MPs than before the 8 May elections. It’s understood it’ll pretty much be continuity for the parliamentary caucus – EFF national chair Dali Mpofu was told he wasn’t trading his advocate’s robes for fighters’ gear in the parliamentary benches – and no antics come Wednesday’s election of the presiding officers and the president.
It’ll be left to the DA to filibuster. Its inaugural caucus decided it would field rival candidates, but did not quite nail down the details. Another caucus would be held for that on Wednesday, the DA announced.
But its Tuesday caucus did decide a few things. The DA would push for a parliamentary oversight committee for the Presidency – there is none and this has been an opposition bugbear for years – and also reach out to other political parties to establish what the DA called “an opposition caucus”.
The prickly issue of losing 1.5 percentage points in the 8 May election where significant gains were talked up on the campaign trail did not stop the DA parliamentary caucus expressing confidence in its boss Mmusi Maimane’s leadership.
Not quite so clear was the position on what exactly, beyond “taking appropriate steps”, was done about outgoing Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s latest Twitter rant, as Maimane answered journalists’ questions on this without once saying “Zille”. He said he did “not agree with the statements of the former premier of the Western Cape”, during a media conference on the steps to the National Assembly.
While John Steenhuisen was named the DA’s chief whip for a second term, in the party’s fit-for-purpose ideology, all other posts of deputy chief whip, other whips and the like are contested in elections. And the DA will wait until after Ramaphosa announces his Cabinet to announce what it calls its shadow cabinet, or spokespersons for each ministerial portfolio.
So the DA is accepting that Ramaphosa will be elected president in the National Assembly on Wednesday – it is a formality given that the ANC holds the majority of seats with 230 of 400 – but not without a dose of politicking. Expect action for the DA benches when Majodina, seconded by ANC MP Derek Hanekom, proposes Ramaphosa for president in terms of the marching orders Magashule gave the parliamentary caucus at its special meeting.
When there are two presidential candidates, there will be a vote – and it’s a secret one with ballot booths set up on the floor of the House. The whole process is overseen by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who earlier on Wednesday would have administered the oath of office to 400 MPs, who swear to be faithful to South Africa and the Constitution, and oversee the election of the Speaker.
Thandi Modise, who has headed the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for the past five years, is the ANC’s choice for Speaker, and on the numbers will be elected to the post, regardless of any DA politicking. According to Magashule’s announcement at the caucus, Modise would be nominated by Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the outgoing Minister in the Presidency, and seconded by ANC MP Madala Ntombela. Modise will oversee the election of her deputy, and it’s been decided that Lechesa Tsenoli would be nominated by ANC MP Alvin Botes, seconded by Zweli Mkhize, the outgoing co-operative governance minister.
Only once all 400 MPs are sworn in and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker elected would Wednesday’s parliamentary proceedings get to the presidential elections.
Afterwards, Ramaphosa may want to say something to the National Assembly after his election as president, as he did in February 2018. Or not. But he must immediately resign as MP, in line with Section 87 of the Constitution, and must within five days “assume office by swearing or affirming faithfulness to the Republic, and obedience to the Constitution…”
Saturday’s inauguration falls well into that time frame, another pit stop in a high-pressure journey to getting a new government under a new presidency up and running.
The focus returns to Parliament sooner than later as the national legislature has yet to pass about 40 Budget votes, for which the deadline is 20 June – which is also the date pencilled in for Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address. DM