Our shameful politicians

2016-09-13 06:00

SOUTH Africa seems to have an oversupply of shameful politicians.

Perhaps it is preferable to have many public representatives with terrible qualities than to be cursed with one truly abominable politician such as the U.S.’s Donald Trump.

It is most disappointing that an organisation like the ANC, with a legendary history and generations of outstanding leaders, now has shameful characters in positions of leadership.

Even when people fall from grace, they survive politically and continue to serve in Parliament and the leadership of the ANC. Take, for example, Humphrey Mmemezi, the former Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC. He was steeped in scandal for, among other things, abusing his government-issued credit card on an official visit to Malaysia, using state funds to buy a painting worth R10 000 from McDonald’s and signing off on allowances for his daughter and five other employees of the Mogale City Municipality.

Despite this, Mmemezi was elected to the ANC’s highest decision-making body, the national executive committee, and was moved from Gauteng to become a member of Parliament.

This shows that the ANC ignores its own resolutions to purge its ranks of corrupt and discredited people, and instead rewards them. But Mmemezi is not out of place in Parliament, where mediocrity and chaos reign. Sometimes it is utterly shocking what MPs say in the House.

The minister of Energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, will probably go down in history for uttering the most confounding statement in Parliament.

During her speech in this year’s State of the Nation Address debate, she said: “When a cow gives birth to a fire, that cow will lick that fire. You know why? When a mother gives birth to a fire, she will lick that fire, because she gave birth to that fire. When a fire burns, it rains, and the earth gets wet. Fire burns, but when it rains, the earth gets wet.”

It is statements like these that have turned the South African Parliament into a joke, as people care less whether what they say makes sense or represents their constituencies.

The level of disrespect for Parliament and its role in holding the executive to account escalated this week during a question session for ministers.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) had requested that an urgent question be put to the minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, about his false claim last week that Cabinet had approved his recommendation for a judicial inquiry into the closure of the Gupta family’s business accounts by South Africa’s banks. The claim was repudiated by the Presidency, which said Zwane made the statement in his “personal capacity” and it did not “reflect the position or views of Cabinet, the Presidency or government”. So when Zwane appeared in Parliament this week, you would think that he would at least be remorseful and acknowledge that he had falsified a Cabinet resolution.

Even if he left it to President Jacob Zuma to decide whether he continues to serve in Cabinet or not, he should have displayed some respect for the institution of Parliament and the electorate by apologising for what he had done.

But Zwane, like some others who occupy those benches in the National Assembly, has no shame.

He avoided answering questions about why he had lied and instead tried to justify the need for a judicial inquiry into the banks. Despite having been dressed down by the Presidency and the ANC, which called his behaviour “outrageous, appalling and shocking”, Zwane continued to do the bidding of his friends, the Guptas.

Speaker Baleka Mbete shielded Zwane from having to answer questions from the opposition and another ANC MP, Bheki Hadebe, argued that the principle of “separation of powers” means that a member of the executive does not have to answer to Parliament.

This is a fundamental distortion of the accountability regime.

It is a grand irony that MPs address each other as “honourable” when many of them are far from it.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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