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Accountability, what accountability? Democracy means majority rule, Paul Mashatile tells MPs

Accountability, what accountability? Democracy means majority rule, Paul Mashatile tells MPs
Deputy President Paul Mashatile responds to questions in the National Assembly in Cape Town on Thursday, 23 March 2023 for the first time since his appointment. (Photo: GCIS)

‘Democracy means majority rules,’ according to Deputy President Paul Mashatile, replying to an opposition follow-up question that got up his nose during his Thursday maiden Q&A in the House. It was all about the presidential Phala Phala farm forex saga — again.

The thing about parliamentary question sessions is that after the primary one for which responses can be prepped and scripted, the supplementary questions can’t be anticipated. But it’s in the answers to those pesky follow-ups – from the opposition, not the sweetheart ANC ones – that a politician’s mettle is tested. 

All went smoothly, per script and firmly politically managed by the political old hand that is Deputy President Paul Mashatile, even on the EFF’s question about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dollar-stuffed sofa on his Phala Phala farm. The Deputy President sidestepped it with a call to MPs not to be impatient and to allow all investigations to finish. 

“The President is not interfering,” he said.

But then DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube asked why the ANC keeps on using its majority in the House to shield the President and to defeat ad hoc inquiries into the Phala Phala farm forex saga – as it did on Wednesday again.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Phala Phala down: ANC foils parliamentary probe into Ramaphosa scandal despite united opposition 

This rendered Parliament “toothless”, said Gwarube, adding that Parliament didn’t have to wait for other institutions to finish their work before acting within its constitutional mandate. 

“What… do you say about Parliament’s role in terms of investigating the President in spite of the fact that there are concurrent investigations taking place. What of our constitutional obligations?” asked Gwarube of Mashatile as leader of government business, or the liaison between the executive and national legislature.

“I think that’s how democracy works, the majority must have its way… Democracy works that way. Maybe when you have an opportunity to govern you understand,” replied Mashatile, to interjections that the DA governs in the Western Cape.

“When the ANC believes its course is correct it will use its majority to push those decisions… Remember that winning positions and decisions is something you win out there during the elections. So, when you campaign and you win, you already win here [in Parliament]. If you lose there [in elections], you have already lost here.

“It’s democracy. It works like that all over the world,” said Mashatile.

“Let’s allow the National Assembly to be able to take decisions in a democratic way. And democracy means majority rules.”

ANC’s fault lines

This response highlights the governing ANC’s fault lines – the presidential untouchability, the closing of ranks under pressure, and majoritarianism as a backstop for decision-making amid declining public trust and confidence.

The ANC’s turn to majoritarian democracy resurged in the Jacob Zuma presidency. It was not the defining feature of the Mandela presidency, or the democratic transition and Constitution-making where substantive negotiations towards mutually agreed compromises gained South Africa world recognition and appreciation.

And majoritarianism is not the way of democracy the world over, as Mashatile had claimed.

In Nordic countries and much of Europe, coalitions in some shape or form are the governments of the day. And even the UK’s Westminster system of governing is moderated as MPs are elected from constituencies – just ask ex-prime minister Boris Johnson who lost his job in the Tory backbencher revolt.

The ANC’s focus on majoritarianism and control of the levers of state, as its phraseology goes, includes a willingness to haggle over positions for power, as is playing out in various councils and the metros of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane.

Mashatile’s “democracy means majority rules” reply was blunter than his earlier response to an equally pesky question from IFP Chief Whip Narend Singh on the need for an oversight committee for the Presidency.

Right now, Parliament does not have such a committee; attempts years ago for the minister in the Presidency to account to the parliamentary public service and administration committee never really got off the ground.

But an oversight committee for the Presidency, which has seen a concentration of power from infrastructure and economic reform to intelligence, is one recommendation from the State Capture commission. Such a committee would be part of a host of measures aimed at improving Parliament’s fulfilment of its constitutional responsibility of oversight and holding to account the executive and state entities.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The (not) super DG as Presidency broadens reach across civil service

“Will you support the creation of a committee to oversee the President, Budget Vote One, here in the national Parliament because it’s part of accountability and oversight?” asked Singh, having pointed out how Mashatile as Gauteng premier reported to a provincial legislature oversight committee.

“I think, for now, the mechanisms to hold the President accountable are adequate. Opposition parties know the President comes here to answer questions. He’s really at your disposal to hold him accountable. I think let’s continue that way,” replied Mashatile.

On Thursday, he earned his keep as Ramaphosa’s deputy.

And with good grace, sparking chuckles among MPs on both sides of the House after a 53-minute delay when fire alarms were triggered by smoke from a broken light fixture in Office 31 at the Good Hope Centre where MPs were getting ready for the sitting.

Opening his maiden parliamentary question slot, Mashatile said, “Someone sent me a message from Johannesburg, ‘We hear that Paul is on fire in Cape Town’.” DM

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  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    No Marianne, Paul is right. Democracy does work with majority. If no political party gets a straight majority, then coalitions between political parties are brokered until one coalition has a majority of votes. That is how it works. It is continuously seen in the local municipalities.

  • jimpowell says:

    Power not service

  • Peter Doble says:

    Classic Orwellian rhetoric from the two new boys Mashatile and Ramokgopa. There’s no problems as long as those holding the reins of power say so. While we hold the ball, we make the rules. If one falls, we all fall. Now where is that lengthy indictment from Mr Zondo? – ah yes, on the shelf gathering dust.

  • Gerhardt Strydom says:

    Marianne has written an excellent article on “Accountability??”. The strong-man approach to ….. well, everything, is central to the mindset on this continent. “If I am stronger than you, I do what I want, I take what I want, etc.” This applies to households, politics, ethnic groups, traders, etc. As the Americans found out when they questioned the running gun battles in some or other country. They asked the militia or war lords “Why don’t you negotiate with the opposition?”. To which was replied “This is how we negotiate!”. You will notice I omit the name of the continent, because it will lead to me being called the R word. We all know the identity of the continent. And no, prejudice is not something I believe in, honest observation is something I do aim to use. Strong men being allowed to do as they please is a sign of …. well, not something good. A family member of mine, when asked about questionable actions, used to say “Because I can!”. Yes, Paul Mashitile, I agree with you, looking at the state of things, “What accountability?”. Lack thereof has become the norm. Very sad.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Not being open to scrutiny is a weakness. When you believe it is important to be ethical then you welcome enquiries because they declare you to be in the right even in the view of your opposition. Hiding behind the claim that might is right suggests to everyone that there’s something fishy behind those closed doors.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Now we know that conscience and intellect are obstacles to becoming an ANC parliamentarian. There is an excellent description in German that applies to those parliamentarian, “Stimmvieh”, meaning cattle that votes as instructed.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    The ANC is causing Parliament to fail in its crucial role of holding the executive to account, and this failure was highlighted as an important aspect contributing to state capture in the Zondo Commission report. The ANC wrongly conflates the party as being the stete, and that leads to the evil of cadre deployment and the failure of Parliament to conduct its oversight role. The ANC is seeking to evade accountability of the executive and push through deeply problematic populist legislation such as the NHI Bill in a desperate bid to retain power after the elections. It will be interesting to see what their perspectives are on “majority rules” after the elections.

  • André Pelser says:

    Majoritarianism and demogoguery = democracy? Really?
    Mashatile and Malema are cut from the same cloth.
    Heaven preserve us if these two gain power!

  • Louise van Dyk says:

    I smell a rat

  • Vas K says:

    Mr Mashatile could have been a bit more diplomatic with his statement, but he hit the nail on the head. One of the definitions of democracy is “tyrrany of majority”. Unfortunately all the other known systems are even less effective. But as witnessed by the state of South Africa, the democracy ceases to be one when the custodians of the democratic system and the constitution are all morons or criminals, often both. To use the cliche: every country has the government it deserves. A big majority of South Africans must have done something terrible to deserve the current government.

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’
      Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

  • Theart Korsten says:

    When the deputy president of a country says they are not accountable because they have the majority then one can only wonder how corruption and state capture will ever be resolved.
    It is sad that we are still here after all the “effort” to expose those responsible.
    Yet taxes are collected and no stone is left unturned. Fines are issued. Amazing that.
    How does that work exactly?
    How can an ANC official say they are not accountable.
    We are in serious trouble.

  • Wytze Voerman says:

    Lack of accountability is the rope we must allow them to hang themselves, come the next elections.

  • FIONA CRAIG says:

    What a puerile institution cANCer has turned out to be. makes one want to gag just reading the drivel they spew. Pity they are so dangerous.

    • Werner Du Plessis says:

      It is two sides to the same coin – if you play the “majority will decide” card you should also accept the other side of the coin that indicates that you take responsibility and deal with the consequences of your decision. A one sides coin is worth nothing.

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    By what possible logic would anyone even remotely believe that Paul Mashatile understands democracy any better than any of his pro-Putin, Stalinist comrades?

  • Ian McClure says:

    OMG – so sad .
    Orwell ( who actually fought for the communists in Spanish Revolution ) was a visionary when describing this communist fascist tendency .
    Unfortunately it is being stuffed down the throat of the misled youth under the guise of ” do gooders ” .
    Most of the monsters in history used the ” do gooder ” kick-start .

    • virginia crawford says:

      George Orwell fought for the Republican cause, which included socialists and communists. He is scathing about the Soviet communist party members who came to “help”: their interest was in power and ideology, not people. Very much like our crowd now.

  • Charl Marais says:

    Democracy ought to work by ensuring that ordinary people have ways to hold officials to account. A good constitution must include mechanisms for recalling all elected officers.

  • Gerhardt Strydom says:

    Peter Doble, you mirror my thoughts, or mine does yours. Either way, we are, for now, at the mercy of the clowns. This country accommodates political bluntness, obvious grand-scale theft or corruption and general lawlessness/ unaccountability almost without any other country ‘competing’ with us on equal footing. Not to mention the court games and the appeal games therein. Back-and-forth-catch-me-if -you-can shenanigans. What a circus. Would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. And let me not forget our ferocious leader President Rama, the margarine king, buttering us up on endless diplomatic promises.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I suppose when the chips are down, majority vote is how things work. That does not mean issues can be suppressed or that answers must not be given. Air the issue in public, discuss, and then vote by majority not to reverse the issue or not prosecute something. Then, we all know who stands for what.

    Anyway, after 2024 he will have to figure out new dance moves as the not majority party in parliament.

  • Nick Jacobs says:

    Statements and thinking like this in the 1920s and 1930s had horrific consequences for societies all over the world.

    This is basically a variation of “Either you’re for us or you’re against us”.

  • Hugh Kennedy says:

    The ANC has never believed in democracy and it never will. We need to accept that and work on getting them out of power before it is really too late.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    “Majority Rule” and “democracy” are mutually exclusive! The former asserts that rule is only by the will of a section of society , while the latter requires active participation by all society?

  • Anthony Sturges says:

    The contemptuous hubris of the ANC is on display for all to see – a pomposity that will be its downfall! It reminds me of the 2008 Zuma slogan: “ANC will rule until Jesus comes”. Well, given the slide in the ANC’s popularity, it seems that the Lord’s return could be imminent!

    Accountability hidden behind majoritarianism leads to corruption just the same.

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