The horseshoe?just got rowdy

2014-05-11 15:00

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Get this: a Parliament with a platoon of Economic Freedom Fighters and a substantially boosted blue-nami of DA members. Add to this mix a range of smaller parties. The outcome?

For the first time since 1994, a legislature that is likely to be the centre of political debate. The two big questions are: who will be elected Speaker of the National Assembly, and will he or she reinstate the committee to investigate the spending at Nkandla? Ferial Haffajee reports

Parliament has become lame in the past five years, says analyst and author Richard Calland. This long-time Parliament- watcher perks up at the prospect of a sizable Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) contingent in the house.

“The horseshoe [the National Assembly, the first House, is laid out in the shape of a horseshoe] will look very different,” he says.

With about 25 EFF members in Parliament, Calland says they could be as agile as the Democratic Party (DP) was in 1994.

With just 10 MPs, party leader Tony Leon ensured a big voice for his small troop and took the party through its first growth spurt.

The DP excelled at using the parliamentary system to its advantage. And this will be the EFF’s first challenge, says Calland.

This means that the red berets must swot up on how Parliament works more quickly than the ANC did in 1994 when the parliamentary set of rules and procedures took a while to understand. Either they get to know it quickly, or the ANC will use this against them.

“With procedural know-how, the EFF can be a thorn in the side,” says Calland.

DA leader Helen Zille has continued Leon’s growth trajectory.

The blues take up the largest chunk of the opposition and, by the latest count, are standing at around 90 strong.

Says Calland: “The DA is much weightier now.” The new shape of Parliament means the ANC will fight on several fronts. “This will make Parliament more powerful,” he says.

So how can opposition parties be effective? Good chief whips are essential. They deploy MPs well, and know the strengths and weaknesses of each member.

In addition, new members must quickly learn to use parliamentary question time well.


The first question facing the supersized DA is who will lead it in Parliament. The first order of business might be a race between incumbent Lindiwe Mazibuko and the party’s Mmusi Maimane, the face of its Gauteng campaign.

At the time of writing, Maimane was unlikely to realise the ambition of being Gauteng premier and a tilt at House leader was likely, but not certain.

“The DA does not believe in coronations, but in legitimate contestation,” said party leader Helen Zille when asked if the party needed another fight so soon after a tough campaign.

“We allow people to go where they want to go,” she said. Both young leaders have the talent for the job.

Size does count at Parliament, said Mazibuko. The size of the opposition bench offers the first opportunity of real accountability. The governing ANC at Parliament often does not make quorum; it lacks the numbers to pass motions or laws, said Mazibuko. “They’re either driving to the airport or asleep at the wheel,” she added.

Now, an enlarged opposition can pass motions and laws or stop them in their tracks if the ANC is short of members. Attendance at Parliament by governing party members has always been a problem.

While the ANC has successfully buried the spending on President Jacob Zuma’s residence at Nkandla during the election campaign, it will be the first order of business for the DA. “We will not let Nkandla go,” said Mazibuko. The ad hoc committee to oversee the investigation of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the spending was filibustered by the ANC. Now it will push the new Speaker to start a new committee.

If he or she does not, then the matter is likely to end up in court. Wilmot James, federal chairperson of the DA, concurred. “We intend to pursue Nkandla with some vigour.”

If the committee is appointed, an impeachment motion is likely to follow from opposition benches. With the size of the ANC, it could end up being all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

However, James said he was looking forward to a Parliament with a different chemistry and geography.


Can you imagine Juju addressing his fellow MPs as “The Honourable so and so”? Lindiwe Mazibuko says Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members will struggle to find a balance between the decorum of the institution and their fiery rhetoric.

“They may have to curtail their shock tactics,” she says. Among more colourful insults, EFF leader Julius Malema called Mazibuko a “tea girl”. The sparring between the two alone will make for a great Parliament.

But to be effective in Parliament, the EFF must ensure its speeches and motions are not hobbled by points of order.

“Otherwise the impact disappears,” says Mazibuko, who has five years of parliamentary experience under her belt. Calland says the EFF “says things in ways that others don’t” and this alone will make Parliament more interesting. Populists have “sound-bite efficiency”, he says, and this works in Parliament.

But Parliament is not only about speeches. The hard slog is technocratic work on committees where the executive is held to account through rigorous research and questioning.

The party is likely to bring a blend of activist and technical skill in its parliamentary cohort. It must also ensure that it maintains its character as a street movement while enjoying parliamentary power.

.?City Press tried to speak to EFF members, but they were busy at the Independent Electoral Commission results operations centre when this report was compiled.


The ANC, bullish and fresh from its 2007 Polokwane ­conference, went into the fourth Parliament intending to keep the executive and government departments accountable.

Five years on and it could claim some successes, like its ethics committee cracking down on former communications minister ­Dina Pule and Northern Cape MP Yolanda Botha for wrongdoing. However, after finding these two guilty, the toothless committee could not demand anything more than apologies and docked ­salaries?–?MPs seemed to be forgiving.

ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani did not want to be drawn on ­whether MPs had done enough to crack the whip. Any ­introspection will be in Sizani’s report to the ANC. However, he said for MPs to be able to do their work “you must have institutional resources, plus authority of individual MPs, plus people to carry out a strategy that can work properly”.

Sizani cited international relations, trade and industry and the three finance committees as examples of parliamentary committees that did their work properly because of strong chairpersons. The ANC will lose retiring veteran MPs like Ben Turok, but it has also retained many experienced MPs on its elections lists.

The decision to deny Winnie Madikizela-Mandela her seat ­because of her weak attendance record and because the ANC felt she had a sufficient pension is an indication it will take discipline seriously in the next Parliament.

–?Carien du Plessis

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