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BUDGET VOTE

‘Great sense of optimism’ for Parliament’s journey to recovery, says Speaker – opposition not quite on board

‘Great sense of optimism’ for Parliament’s journey to recovery, says Speaker – opposition not quite on board
The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

On the day the Constitutional Court ruled the 2019 Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act ‘inconsistent with the Constitution’ and ‘invalid’ over inadequate public participation, Parliament debated its Budget, with the opposition raising questions on how the national legislature conducts its business.

Parliament has 24 months to either re-enact the 2019 Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act so it is constitutionally compliant, or redo the law from scratch.

“Even if the lawmaker ultimately does not change its mind, it must approach the public involvement process with a willingness to do so,” ruled Constitutional Court Judge Leona Theron on Tuesday in favour of Alliance for Rural Democracy national coordinator Constance Mogale and others.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Major victory — activists and civil society hail judgment declaring Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act invalid

The unanimous ruling highlighted inadequate notices for public hearings, lack of education on this then-draft law content, access to public hearings – in Polokwane the venue was changed overnight; in Bloemfontein, it was held 60km away in Thaba Nchu – and issues with translation.

Theron, who also rebuked Parliament for failing to keep proper records of the public participation process, ruled the two-year delay in bringing the case did not prevent it, CCT 73-22, from being heard – it is of public interest.

“This case is about the significance of participatory democracy for millions of South Africans who for the most part live away from centres of power, in rural areas and in some of the poorest parts of our country. These are people who have the least access to power, wealth and influence.

“This case is about their ability to participate in the making of law that governs virtually every aspect of their daily lives, including access to land, basic services and rights to the benefits of the land upon which they live.”

A few hours later in the Parliament Budget Vote debate, House Chairperson for Committees, Cedric Frolick, updated MPs, saying, frequently, the necessary analysis ahead of public hearings had not been done.

“We are reviewing the processes for public participation… In one instance, Honourable Members, we spent more than R10-million to process one Bill that was not contested in any of the provinces.”

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Parliament said it viewed the Constitutional Court judgment as “an important enrichment to Parliament’s endeavour to continually improve its public participation functions to ensure that the decisions the institution takes fully reflect the views, aspirations and hopes of South Africans”.

In the earlier Budget Vote debate, the centrality of people was a golden thread.

“The democratic Parliament of South Africa has played a critical role in supporting our democracy and development over the years. It has been a voice for all South Africans and has worked tirelessly to ensure that our people’s rights and freedoms are protected,” said National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, adding that internal governance had been strengthened, oversight maintained and 27 laws passed.

“As we approach the 30th anniversary of our democracy in 2024, we therefore must acknowledge the achievements of the democratic Parliament of South Africa. It has played a vital role in shaping our nation, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have served in this Parliament over the years.”

DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube had a different take:

“The ANC has broken Parliament, over years, for narrow political gain, for self-preservation – at a great cost to this country,” she said.

“We know that a working Parliament is not in the interest of the ANC,” she added later.

It was so dire that former president Thabo Mbeki wrote to Deputy President Paul Mashatile, lambasting him for ANC conduct in the House, including using numbers to push through its will.

“You did some clumsy moral footwork then, and you repeated these theatrics when the opposition wanted Parliament to investigate the serious allegations faced by President (Cyril) Ramaphosa,” said Gwarube in reference to the DA-proposed parliamentary probe into the President’s Phala Phala forex saga that was defeated by ANC numbers in the House in March 2023 – and the ANC similarly defeating a possible impeachment inquiry in December 2022.

“You shut down accountability. It was the same script, but different cast. The Jacob of Nkandla. And the Cyril of Phala Phala.”

It was that which seemed to have roused the Speaker in her close of the debate, saying the Phala Phala matter could not be compared to that of Nkandla.

“That the report was voted against by some of the members has nothing to do with the role played by the Office of the Speaker and the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa,” said Mapisa-Nqakula in reference to the impeachment proceedings.

“We did our job. We followed the rules to the end.”

And EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi got her reply. Rejecting Parliament’s Budget, the EFF would go to court to stop a planned study tour to the UK parliament to see how it held the prime minister accountable, part of rule committee deliberations on a possible Presidency oversight committee.

“The rules committee, Honourable Members, will go and visit the UK and study how that small committee deals with issues… That’s what we are going to do.”

Finish and klaar.

Freedom Front Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder bluntly wrapped it up:

“If we sometimes forget, each and every member… around this House represents approximately 50,000 South Africans out there. We should never forget about that responsibility.”

After all, Section S42(3) of the Constitution sets out that Parliament is elected “to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution”.

“So what do we have here? We bring together people that represent the people out there on the one hand, and on the other, it’s all about power. You have to have power to do things and act… That is why politics is about power,” said Mulder.

And that’s why campaigning for what could be a watershed 2024 election is already unfolding in parliamentary sittings like Tuesday’s Budget Vote debate. DM

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