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Mabuza’s swearing in at Union Buildings sends the wro...

South Africa

ANALYSIS

Mabuza’s swearing in at Union Buildings sends the wrong signal

President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, deputy president David Mabuza and newly elected house speaker Thandi Modise in Pretoria, 28 May 2019. David Mabuza was sworn in as a Member of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: GCIS)

Tuesday’s unprecedented swearing in of ANC deputy president David ‘DD’ Mabuza as a lawmaker at the seat of the executive at the Union Buildings — 1,452km or so away from Parliament — sets a potentially dangerous precedent of blurring the lines between the legislative and executive spheres of the state. And it sends the wrong signal, somewhat of a surprise given this presidency’s determination to control the optics.

It’s easy to argue logistics as the reason for ANC Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza taking the MP’s oath of office at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guesthouse at the Union Buildings, rather than at Parliament in Cape Town. It’s easy to say that if Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is okay with administering the lawmakers’ oath of office at the seat of the executive, then who is anyone to argue against it?

But it’s a misstep — and it wasn’t as if there were not more appropriate venues available. If the Constitutional Court was too small, given media attendance and that of VIP and other guests, then next door is Constitutional Hill, a powerful location in the history and constitutional democracy of South Africa. Actually, any hotel conference room would have been a better choice.

Holding Mabuza’s swearing-in as MP at the Union Buildings seems to underscore where his and the governing ANC’s loyalties lie. By her silent presence, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise lent a sheen of the parliamentary protocol to the proceedings in the heart of the executive, and so contributed to the blurring of the lines between executive and legislature.

Modise was accompanied by several officials, including Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo and secretary to the National Assembly Masibulele Xaso. In the proceedings, broadcast live, the Speaker and ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina posed with Mabuza and President Cyril Ramaphosa for the official photograph that will forever commemorate the unprecedented swearing in of an MP at the Union Buildings.

Tuesday’s proceedings were the latest in a series of machinations that over the past six days have melded party and state. Bluntly put, by “postponing” Mabuza’s oath as MP, the process of state was delayed to create space for ANC machinations to unfold — only those involved in the behind-the-scenes talks will know what motivated Mabuza to do what he did — and reach a point where, with governing party factional fights at least temporarily settled, the threat to state processes such as an oath of office and the Cabinet announcement, could be picked up.

That something was in the making emerged with a bang two hours before the scheduled swearing-in of the 400 MPs in the National Assembly on Wednesday 22 May 2019. Mabuza would not be sworn in, Ramaphosa announced in a statement that spoke of a “postponement” so Mabuza could address allegations of having brought the ANC into disrepute, then before the ANC’s integrity commission.

Such a “postponement” of being sworn in as MP is not provided for in law, regulations or by any particular parliamentary precedent. The Electoral Act and Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) regulations effectively put political parties in charge of their public representatives’ list until the moment of swearing in. That moment was on Wednesday 22 May, which also marked the end of the window when political parties could rejig their lists. That possibility only arises again in a year’s time.

A “postponement” of taking up one’s seat on the parliamentary benches is also unknown in Parliament in the absence of a medical certificate or court/interdict proceedings.

But as the law and regulations also do not expressly ban such postponement, it was a case of taking a chance and winging it.

With regard to any allegations against Mabuza before the ANC integrity commission, those had been there for months, according to City Press, that in mid-April wrote of 22 names flagged by the commission. Already in January, the commission had been asked to look at the ANC election lists amid a public outcry over the inclusion of several leaders fingered in testimony before inquiries such as the Zondo State Capture commission and in judgments for having lied in court.

It’s on public record that Mabuza went to talk to the integrity commission on Friday, and both the Sunday Times and City Press reported the commission had “cleared” him of allegations and would submit its report on Tuesday morning. Against this, news of Mabuza’s swearing-in emerged late on Monday night. The commission didn’t quite make that deadline as on Tuesday it was still hearing from several of those it had flagged, according to News24.

But Mabuza’s swearing-in on Tuesday effectively also meant the ANC integrity commission report had not been subjected, as is usual practice, to the discussion and a final decision by the ANC national executive committee (NEC), the governing party’s highest-decision making structure between national conferences. The NEC was scheduled to sit only from Thursday, a day ahead of the ANC NEC legkotla to discuss the governing party’s plans for government programmes and projects over the next five years.

It seems in this high-stakes political poker, the ANC is undercutting its processes, as its manoeuvrings are impacting on government.

By late Tuesday, no word of an announcement on the Cabinet had yet emerged. On Sunday, the presidency played it safe, saying it would happen “later in the week”. Effectively this means South Africa has a president, Ramaphosa, and an administration of directors-general. All ministers stopped being ministers (even if some may not quite have accepted this) once Ramaphosa took the oath of office at Saturday’s inauguration, promising a “new era”.

The Constitution is clear on the timeframes — five days — from the president being elected in the National Assembly and assuming office by taking the oath of office, or the inauguration, according to Section 87. But there’s no deadline between the president taking office and the appointment of a Cabinet. And the Constitution is clear in Section 94 that all ministers and deputy ministers “remain competent to function” only until the new president assumes office — in Ramaphosa’s case that was Saturday’s inauguration.

Like the non-existent legal and regulatory express pronouncements on the “postponement” of being sworn in as MP, alongside the lack of particular precedent, this silence on how long a newly sworn-in president has to appoint Cabinet has opened the door to the current, unprecedented delays.

It’s uncharted waters for South Africa. But what emerged as painfully familiar is that South Africa is being put upon for the governing ANC to sort out its internal battles.

That much became clear when Ramaphosa, perhaps unaware of the microphones, told Mabuza: “Sesiphelele manje, loosely translated as “Everyone’s here now”.

It’s what would be said to someone whose arrival had been awaited before the group could set off together. And with those two words, Ramaphosa captured much of the week’s drama that fudged the separation of party and state — and also drew in Parliament in moves that blurred the separation of the executive and legislative spheres of the state.

All this has sent the wrong signals. DM

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