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Parliament endorses Kholeka Gcaleka as new Public Protector in unruly sitting marked by DA walkout, EFF’s absence

Parliament endorses Kholeka Gcaleka as new Public Protector in unruly sitting marked by DA walkout, EFF’s absence
Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka’s endorsement in the National Assembly means her name is now forwarded to President Cyril Ramaphosa for formal appointment as the next Public Protector. (Photo: Facebook / Public Protector South Africa)

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka has received just over the necessary 60%, or 240 votes, in the National Assembly to be the next boss of this constitutionally enshrined institution supporting democracy. Thursday was an unruly sitting, with the EFF absent and the DA walking out.

It was always going to be a tense, tight vote. And it turned out to be raucous and chaotic before the roll-call vote that came down to 244 for and 12 against, with no votes from either the 84 DA MPs, who walked out, the 44 EFF MPs who were absent, or the United Democratic Movement, Pan Africanist Congress or Cope.

The trigger was DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach’s refusal to withdraw the comment on the recommended new Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka’s “very cosy relationship, some say intimate relationship, with her boss, the rather odious Menzi Simelane, led to speedy promotions…”

The ANC objected to the insinuation that Gcaleka secured jobs with sexual favours:

“… (W)e can’t allow to have such an insinuation in the House, given what we have gone through as women in this country,” said Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi.

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula ruled the comments were a disallowed negative reflection on a person in public office. She ordered Breytenbach to withdraw or leave the House. Breytenbach left. 

The DA challenged the ruling as incorrect, arguing that Gcaleka was not yet approved by the House to be the Public Protector. And she was not before the House as Deputy Public Protector, given that she’s now the recommended person for Public Protector. Thus, in effect, she wasn’t a holder of public office.

“You absolutely do not belong on this chair. You are dishonest and you are a liar,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen, referring to Mapisa-Nqakula.

The House erupted. Verbal exchanges grew heated in the back where DA and ANC MPs sat alongside each other. At one point it seemed as if things might come to blows.

Mapisa-Nqakula repeatedly told opposition MPs they “will not collapse the House”, signalling some briefing on expected potential parliamentary politicking.

Instead, the Speaker was told that it was she who was collapsing the House. DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube cited the rule against bias: “We will walk out.”

And the DA did just that.

Aside from the IFP and two- and one-seat parties like Good, the National Freedom Party, the African Independence Congress and Al Jama-ah, all other opposition parties announced their objection to Gcaleka for appointment as Public Protector by the president. Lack of impartiality was repeatedly raised.

The governing ANC needed to ensure all its 230 MPs, including ministers and deputy ministers, were in the House. As did the IFP with its 14 seats. The votes of the two- and one-seat parties provided another handful of votes.

As it turned out on Monday, this was the case. 

Gcaleka was the ANC’s preferred candidate among a shortlist of eight from 36 qualifying nominations and applications. Youth, gender and continuity were factors cited in Gcaleka’s favour by ANC MPs.

With the exception of the IFP, the opposition disagreed during the final ad hoc committee deliberations. The DA said she was “wholly unsuitable for the post”, while the EFF and Freedom Front Plus pointed to clouds hanging over her head, and questioned Gcaleka’s ability to turn around the Office of the Public Protector.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Committee selects Gcaleka as next Public Protector despite DA, EFF and FF+ objections, but next steps crucial

Some six weeks before Thursday’s vote on the next Public Protector, the House on 11 September endorsed the removal from office, or impeachment, of suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane after proceedings that spanned the last three years of her seven-year term in office.

In Monday’s proceedings in the House on the new Public Protector, the divisions in the interview and selection process continued, both in debate and vote.

Even though the DA walked out, and the EFF, like the UDM and Cope, were absent, names of their MPs were called – except for Breytenbach and EFF MP Mzwanele Manyi, who had been ordered out of the House.

Gcaleka’s endorsement in the National Assembly means her name is now forwarded to President Cyril Ramaphosa for formal appointment as the next Public Protector. DM


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