Wednesday was a day that saw the backroom machinations of the governing ANC dovetail with parliamentary procedure and ceremony. When President Cyril Ramaphosa stepped to the podium of the National Assembly after being elected unopposed, it was the moment he would set the tone for his presidency. And his call was for co-operation, collaboration and working together to meet the aspirations and expectations of all South Africans.
“I will be the president of all South Africans,” he said on Wednesday, later adding: “I will, like Madiba did, walk with kings… and queens and captains of industry and all and sundry without losing the touch of the common people.”
It was a tone that stood markedly different from the past decade when ANC election wins were touted triumphantly. And it was a tone that offered room for opposition parties in recognition of the 8 May election outcome to work for “a common mandate” to build South Africa.
Earlier, EFF leader Julius Malema, in a clear reference, although without naming ex-president Jacob Zuma, cautioned Ramaphosa not to surround himself with yes-men.
“You need someone who’s honest with you. Those who failed were told ‘You are right’ even when they were wrong… and they were told they were wrong by the Constitutional Court and the Public Protector,” said Malema in a clear reference to the debacle of the R249-million taxpayer-funded security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla rural homestead.
“Be the leader our country needs at this crucial time,” urged IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, while DA leader Mmusi Maimane pledged his party’s support for decisions taken in the interest of South Africa.
But it was a long day before getting to this point. And many of the finer intrigues on the ANC side of the House must still play out — in Parliament, but also the governing party’s Luthuli House head office.
Just two hours before the swearing in of the 400 MPs, Ramaphosa, wearing his hat as ANC president, announced that Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza would “postpone” his swearing in as MP so he could address allegations before the ANC Integrity Commission of having prejudiced and brought into disrepute the governing party.
That 20-odd names had been flagged when the ANC election lists were referred to the commission after a public outcry over some inclusions has been in the public domain since April. But the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) has yet to deal with the Integrity Commission report.
Saying Mabuza’s swearing in as MP was postponed pending the Integrity Commission processes is kicking for touch and a face-saving description for what effectively is Mabuza’s departure from the Union Buildings. Having applauded the move because of Mabuza’s “dictates of conscience” and “respect for ANC processes and institutions”, Ramaphosa would not appoint him to one of the two Cabinet posts he can fill from outside the parliamentary benches.
Later on Wednesday an internal ANC message making the rounds clearly indicated the governing party was arranging that Mabuza’s parliamentary seat was allocated to someone else. That means Mabuza, while he remains ANC deputy president, is off the public representatives lists — and will remain off for at least a year when the next window period comes for political parties to change their lists, in line with the Electoral Act.
That detail in the leaked message about Mabuza’s replacement on the ANC benches emerged alongside the replacements for Malusi Gigaba and ex-Speaker Baleka Mbete, who the ANC indicated in a statement on Tuesday had withdrawn from being ANC MPs, without providing reasons. Both would imperil their pensions and perks respectively as minister and Speaker, whose remuneration is pegged at the level of deputy president.
Daily Maverick is reliably informed Mabuza as ANC deputy president could head to Luthuli House, and that an announcement may be expected over the weekend. However, when approached for comment as he was leaving the president’s bay in the National Assembly’s public gallery, Mabuza simply said: “No interviews.”
Outgoing Cabinet minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s withdrawal as MP came as more of a surprise, it is understood, particularly as Monday’s special ANC NEC announced her as “chair of chairs”.
The official ANC announcement came as Wednesday’s swearing in of the 400 MPs was already under way, and it was brief: “… due to family responsibilities and her being in mourning currently, she (Mokonyane) believes she would be unable to diligently and with commitment, fulfil her duties at this stage”. Mokonyane, who now keeps her ministerial pension and perks, is headed to Luthuli House in an unspecified capacity.
But in the ANC’s factional politicking, Mokonyane declining the move to Parliament is a setback for the grouping around party secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Bluntly put, Mokonyane would have been the block to the other, Ramaphosa grouping’s, initiatives, and the counter to ensure measures unpopular in the Ramaphosa grouping, such as a draft law to nationalise the South African Reserve Bank, would be pushed through.
The “chair of chairs” is a strategic, powerful position as it oversees and directs the committees where Parliament does the majority of its work, from legislation to oversight. It also includes managing the funding for committees, including travel and conducting public hearings.
The political machinations of the governing ANC have yet to fully unfold.
More clarity can be expected with the announcement of Cabinet, expected from Sunday when after final consultations the would-be ministers can be expected to be called in for that traditional chat. Until the official announcement it’s just speculation driven by various factional interests that put three women up for the deputy president’s post — Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
Coincidentally, all seems to tie back to the ANC 2017 Nasrec national conference: Dlamini Zuma narrowly lost to Ramaphosa after Mabuza played kingmaker, while Sisulu was on Ramaphosa’s ticket as his deputy after Pandor, a surprise announcement in November 2017, only to be dropped later.
Whether the political bombs of Mabuza and Mokonyane dropping out is a first sign of Ramaphosa cleaning up in the party — ahead of a clean-up in Cabinet — remains to be seen. Wednesday’s power play may well have created a factional split between Ramaphosa and government against Magashule and Luthuli House. Like at the ANC Nasrec conference, Mabuza may just be the key.
But on Wednesday it was all about paddling furiously below some choppy political water while maintaining calm, dignity and decorum. Optics are key.
And that’s why Mabuza sat in the president’s bay in the National Assembly public gallery for the whole day. He was flanked by ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile. ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte was also there, joined at one stage by Magashule.
Below, on the floor of the House, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng administered the oath of office — to be faithful to South Africa and the Constitution — to groups of MPs.
The EFF vosho’ed to the mikes. The DA benches erupted into bleats when Good party leader Patricia de Lille, once the DA’s Cape Town mayor, walked up to take her oath, returning to represent her third political party after the Independent Democrats and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
It was a very different sitting on Wednesday from the previously bruising scenes that have played out in the House. Heckles, yes, some sharp political commentary, yes, but none of the acerbic and terse volleys. And the ANC factional battles were well obscured.
Those optics from the House were crucial. While the big bang ceremony is Saturday’s inauguration at Loftus Versfeld, the tone and measure of the Ramaphosa presidency was set in the National Assembly where he was elected to head South Africa’s government.
“Please be assured of my personal commitment, and the commitment of the incoming executive, to fulfilling these obligations of seeking consensus, collaborating, working together to find solutions to all the challenges that our country faces,” said Ramaphosa. DM
In other news...
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Harrison Ford suffers from a fear of public speaking.