National Assembly Speaker appointment shows ANC’s disdain for Parliament
It is vital that the occupant of the seat is seen to be a person of integrity who is nonpartisan in their approach.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
As Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula rose from her seat to cast her ballot in the parliamentary vote for the new Speaker of the National Assembly, she was cheered on by some of her colleagues on the ANC benches. As she approached the voting booth, one MP from the DA benches heckled: “Where are the receipts for the R5-million?”
Mapisa-Nqakula paid the quip no mind and went on to win the vote by 199 to the DA’s Annelie Lotriet’s 82 votes. It came as no surprise. The ANC has the majority of seats in the House.
But that moment, as fleeting as it was, somewhat set the tone for what the remainder of the sixth term of our Parliament will look like.
In a way it harks back to the days of Baleka Mbete as Speaker. Some will remember how chaotic our Parliament was. Little lawmaking took place as heckling became the order of the day. This became more pronounced during Jacob Zuma’s last years as president.
This view is backed up by the parliamentary review of the fifth Parliament by the nonprofit Parliamentary Monitoring Group. During the period 2014 to 2019, only 65% of the Bills introduced to Parliament were successfully adopted, compared with the efficiency rate of 87% in the previous term.
Mbete, unlike her successor, Thandi Modise, was not respected by the House. Modise, by contrast, even though she was drawn from the ANC benches, enjoyed universal acceptance from across the political spectrum.
This is important for a Speaker of the National Assembly – it is vital that the occupant of the seat is seen to be a person of integrity who is nonpartisan in their approach.
Sadly, this cannot be said about Mapisa-Nqakula, who faces her own charges of wrongdoing. The UDM has accused her of accepting undue gratification to the tune of R5-million from a businessman contracted to the Department of Defence while she was defence minister. This matter is now the subject of an investigation by Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence.
Not only was Mapisa-Nqakula not good enough for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, she also arrived in Parliament with a corruption cloud over her head.
The obvious question is: Why, if Mapisa-Nqakula was not good enough for Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, is she being dumped in Parliament?
The answer lies in how disdainfully the ANC has always treated Parliament. It does not regard the national legislature as an institution to which it can deploy its sharpest minds to contribute to the process of lawmaking and be an effective accountability bulwark against the executive’s excesses. Rather, Parliament is a dumping ground for discarded comrades or a cooling-off space for errant provincial strongmen.
This is not new. It dates back to the Mandela years, when Ace Magashule was sent to Parliament to remove him from the Free State, where he was clashing with then-premier Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota in the 1990s. The same happened recently when former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo was “deployed” to Parliament to remove him from influencing the factional politics of the North West. It is not unusual to hear in ANC circles of someone being “sent to national” as a euphemism for removing a toxic comrade from local politics.
To be fair, other parties also do this. But it is more pronounced in the governing party.
Even the DA sent John Steenhuisen to Parliament in 2011 to defuse the political fallout after he was embroiled in a cheating scandal in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal. But, for the DA, the move was twofold – to remove Steenhuisen from the KZN political scene and to fast-track the trajectory of one of its rising stars. It paid off for the DA: Steenhuisen is now the party’s leader. It doesn’t always work out in other parties, as we have seen in the ANC.
The scandal-prone and the political misfits are sent to Parliament to cool off while they plot their next political move.
This is why Mapisa-Nqakula’s election is problematic. If anything, it is a setback for Parliament. Already, the UDM and EFF boycotted the sitting on 19 August.
By electing her, the ANC is basically setting the stage for a tumultuous parliamentary term. This is unfortunate, because Parliament has yet to fully recover from the debilitating effects of State Capture, which saw the institution stripped of its voice and turned into a lapdog for the Zuma administration.
With Modise, Parliament was returning to being a respected institution. She did not shy away from wagging a finger at errant ministers, Mapisa-Nqakula included.
The responsibilities of a Speaker go beyond the constitutional role of being the executive authority in Parliament. They also involve the administrative part of ensuring Parliament as an institution works and that its committees and staff are functioning properly.
For someone like Mapisa-Nqakula, who, as minister, barely answered written questions posed to her by MPs, this may prove to be a difficult task. DM168
Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.
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