South Africa


Protests, loss of legislative memory of tabling Bills, and judges’ impeachment – all in a week’s work

Protests, loss of legislative memory of tabling Bills, and judges’ impeachment – all in a week’s work
Supporters and members of #UniteBehind outside Parliament on 20 September 2023. The activists planned to fast against corruption for 72 hours. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The #UniteBehind protesters on a 72-hour fast for accountability and for Parliament to act on State Capture were watched by police. No challenges were anticipated, National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs.

Thursday’s programming committee had earlier been told the protests were “about greed and corruption about members of Parliament”. The matter was closed with Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s comment, “So far I am told it is quiet. Maybe we shouldn’t anticipate challenges other than that they are there.”

It’s not the first time SA’s democratic Parliament has been the site of protest.

From the October 2015 #FeesMustFall demonstrations, to the significantly less noticeable (repeat) protests by elderly Ciskei pension fund members still looking for their money, to the May 1996 march by the anti-drug vigilante group, Pagad.

For 72 hours, from 20 September, the protesters’ fast – with placards, music, a bit of late-evening football and plenty of supportive hoots from passing motorists – is about corruption, State Capture and MPs’ role in all of that.

#UniteBehind, led by veteran activist Zackie Achmat, laid complaints against six MPs for their role in State Capture and, according to protest pamphlets, is calling for the removal of Sifiso Buthelezi, chair of the appropriations committee, and finance committee chair Joe Maswanganyi, for their role in the looting of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

Proceedings against eight of 12 MPs who were referred to the ethics committee were concluded by the end of June 2023, according to Parliament. That includes three guilty findings, including against ANC MP Mosebenzi Zwane for association with the Guptas and the Tegeta coal mine saga, and Presidency Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana for not declaring R170,000 from tenderpreneur Edwin Sodi, linked to various State Capture deals. 

Most recently, it also includes Maswanganyi for failing to appoint a Prasa board, although it’s not clear if the ethics recommendation of mid-June – that he’d be suspended from 10 October to 1 December 2023 – has been adopted, as is necessary to give it effect.

On Thursday, the National Assembly decided the vote for the new Public Protector would now happen on 19 October – four days after the seven-year non-renewable term of the impeached Busisiwe Mkhwebane officially ends.

It’s not a train smash as the ANC and IFP’s preferred candidate, Kholeka Gcaleka, appointed as deputy, is already acting in the position. 

If the ANC and IFP, alongside a handful of one and two-seat parties, muster the constitutionally required minimum 240-vote threshold, then President Cyril Ramaphosa will appoint her and Parliament will start the process of finding a deputy public protector. 

If the vote flops, it’s back to square one. 

With Mkhwebane having made history as the first impeached boss of an institution constitutionally established to support democracy, two judges may follow suit.

This week, Parliament’s justice committee decided on the process under Section 177 of the Constitution to consider the removal from office for gross misconduct – and loss of lifetime salary benefits – of judge Nkola Motata for his 2009 drunk driving behaviour and suspended Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe for his 2008 attempts to influence two Constitutional Court judges in matters involving then president Jacob Zuma.

The pressure is on to wrap this up before the end of the year, it emerged in the programming committee.

Performance pressure is also on the legislative front, with 36 Bills before MPs right now.

With the 4 September deadline for ministers to submit their draft laws having come and gone, the Cabinet only managed to properly introduce 12 of its planned 42 Bills.

And even that tabling has been messy at times. 

The Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill was tabled for information under Joint Rule 159 only in April, and it took another four months before it was finally properly tabled well into August.

A similar messiness is unfolding now over the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, dubbed Gilab.

It’s not properly before Parliament as it was submitted only for information under Joint Rule 159, according to the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports, Parliament’s record of work, of 29 August.

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni seems to think the Bill was tabled in May, but perhaps confusion arose when the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence announced during the State Security Budget vote debate that it’s going ahead with committee legislation because of long delays with her Bill.

MPs, however, remain accommodating.

That’s why, on Thursday, a motion was adopted to establish an ad hoc committee to process Gilab “upon introduction of the Bill”, and to report back to the House by 1 March 2024.

For Gilab to properly come before MPs, it needs to be tabled with a gazetted notice and State Law Advisor certification as per National Assembly Rule 279.

If and when that happens, MPs can do this legislative work in public, even if there are those in the smoke-and-mirrors world and their acolytes who may prefer it to be done differently. DM


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