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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS ANALYSIS

Parliament set for new presiding officers as it faces losing veteran MPs across the floor

Parliament set for new presiding officers as it faces losing veteran MPs across the floor
From left: Speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais) | Deputy speaker of the National Assembly Tsenoli Lechesa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Lisa Hnatowicz) | DA MP Robert Alfred Lees. (Photo: RSA Parliament) | Former Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

While the 8 March deadline looms for the finalisation of would-be public representatives for the 2024 elections, the National Assembly could get two new presiding officers as parliamentary benches lose veteran lawmakers.

That National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli is retiring from public political life come the elections after two terms in office, has been known since late 2023, but he publicly confirmed this in early February during an interview with SAfm. Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula seemed to follow suit when she said, “it is time for me to hand over the baton to the younger ones”, just hours before the 8 February State of the Nation Address.

“I have no intentions of coming back to Parliament unless the ANC decides otherwise,” the Speaker told eNCA.

It’s a somewhat fudgy response that leaves the door open for a change of mind and does not exclude the possibility of, say, accepting another stint in the Cabinet, where Mapisa-Nqakula has worked for some two decades. The then defence minister was appointed National Assembly Speaker in the August 2021 Cabinet reshuffle.

As it stands right now, for the first time in 15 years, both the Speaker and the deputy post are set to need completely new incumbents simultaneously. The last time this happened was in 2009 when ANC MP Max Sisulu became Speaker and his fellow ANC MP, ex-Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, became deputy. 

Not fudgy about not returning to Parliament was veteran ANC parliamentarian Yunus Carrim, who from 2009 to 2014 was cooperative governance deputy minister and, for 10 months, communications minister.

“I’ve declined the nomination to go back to Parliament. Not that if you’re nominated, it means you’ll get elected. I wrote to the ANC expressing my appreciation for the opportunity given to me to serve, and also to the SACP [South African Communist Party]. I’ve been in Parliament for 30 years now and have to make way for younger comrades,” the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces finance committee wrote in an email response.

“I’ll continue to serve the ANC and, particularly the SACP, in other ways. Also, I want to be more active in progressive civil society organisations committed to economic and social transformation.”

Across the floor, politically speaking, DA MP Alf Lees is also not returning to Parliament after 15 years in the parliamentary benches.

He joined after the 2009 elections, and served on the Standing Committee on Finance and, most recently on Parliament’s spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

For the past eight years or so Lees has chased down SAA’s bailouts, business rescue and the national airliner’s 51% sale. In August 2017 he took the wind from under then finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s wings when he released a Cabinet memo on plans for a R10-billion bailout for the national airliner by selling the government’s Telkom shares.

“It is time to hang up the gloves,” Lees told Daily Maverick by phone.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has set 8 March as a hard deadline for political parties and independents to submit the names of the would-be public elected representatives. After administrative and verification processes, these names are published for objections for two days from 26 March. The final lists of would-be elected public representatives will be published on 10 April, according to the IEC elections timetable.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s polls timetable ‘cast in stone’, says IEC, urging parties to meet registration deadlines

Then no fudginess is left on who’s up for election to the National Assembly, or one of the nine provincial legislatures.

Definitely not on the governing ANC election candidates’ lists will be Women, Youth and People with Disabilities Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. In January her retirement plans emerged after she wrote to the ANC Luthuli House HQ to say she’s not available for nomination. The former health and home affairs minister served a four-year stint as African Union Commission chairperson from mid-2012 to mid-March 2017 before spending the remainder of 2017 campaigning for the presidency of the ANC for the radical economic transformation grouping. She lost by 179 votes to Cyril Ramaphosa, who in February 2018 went on to become the country’s President.

It remains to be seen if International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor is on the ANC public reps candidates lists. “If I am nominated, I probably will stand,” she said right at the end of her international relations briefing on 31 January.

In ANC lore it is the branches that determine who makes it on to the elections candidates lists and in what spot. Pandor’s comment includes sufficient conditionalities so it wouldn’t be a surprise if, ultimately, she declines.

The lists will also show whether Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan bows out from public political life. In late 2022, word was he had wanted to retire, but was persuaded by President Cyril Ramaphosa to stay on until the 2024 elections.

Traditionally the smaller parties represented in Parliament would ensure their leaders top the election candidates lists.

Once the election candidates’ names are finalised, it will also be clear how many independents will contest in what is a first for South African elections. DM

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