Between a whip and a Stone for errant MPs

2013-06-23 14:00

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Motshekga’s successor has to instil discipline in ANC’s 264 MPs.

New ANC chief whip Stone Sizani has a mighty task ahead of him: instilling discipline in the party’s 264 MPs at a time when its majority muscle in Parliament has never been weaker.

He takes up the whip aware his own popularity will be at stake and with no guarantee of holding the post after the 2014 elections.

Some might say he’s been handed a poisoned chalice, but disciplined cadres don’t question new assignments.

“It’s a tough thing,” Sizani told City Press, “but what can I do?”

He learnt of his appointment from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe 30 minutes before Thursday’s caucus meeting, where the shake-up was announced.

“I do know that Parliament has to work much more effectively and efficiently, and that the ANC wants its deployees to perform better.

“How we get there in the shortest possible time I have to find out after talking to those who have been doing the job,” said Sizani, who found his stride as chairperson of the rural development and land reform oversight committee.

The axe had hung over his predecessor, Mathole Motshekga, since he failed to get back on to the national executive committee at the ANC’s Mangaung conference. Motshekga, the ANC’s longest-serving chief whip, inherited in 2009 a caucus in financial and organisational disarray, and stabilised it.

But on his watch, discipline – or the lack of it – emerged as a key problem for the ruling party which, despite its massive majority, found itself thwarted in driving its political and legislative agenda in Parliament.

This was glaringly apparent when the DA was able to stall the passage of the Labour Relations Amendment Bill during Thursday night’s marathon last sitting of the session simply by taking advantage of empty seats on the ANC’s benches.

By decamping some of its own MPs to the bar just ahead of the vote, the DA used the ANC’s lax discipline to ensure there weren’t the 201 MPs needed to approve the bill, now held over until August when Parliament resumes after its winter recess.

Sizani said he knew who those MPs were who drew salaries without showing up at Parliament.

“I don’t think discipline is optional in the ANC. It’s not something people can think they can opt out on.

“My view is deployees in Parliament, whatever party they come from, ignore what should be done and what should not – but there should also be systems, from our party, in particular, that keep people accountable.

“The advantage I have is that this is not an individual, but a collective responsibility. I have the title to initiate, but there are structures that must do these things.

“The consequences on me are not big. If the ANC gains respect, becomes a better organisation because I made a contribution in whatever small way I can, that is fine by me.

“Whatever happens to me is irrelevant. That is why I am there – otherwise, I would have opted out, joined the private sector or an NGO,” said Sizani, who spent time on Robben Island and was a leading

United Democratic Front activist in the Eastern Cape, where he served as education MEC, and had a stint in business before becoming an MP.

Sizani has stood by his wife, Pankie, due in court in August on charges of money laundering and theft linked to her allegedly creating “ghost teachers” and pocketing their salaries while head of an early childhood development unit in Port Elizabeth.

Mantashe told City Press whether the ANC knew this before choosing Sizani was not the issue, as his wife would face the charges and their consequences as an individual – the same stance taken against calls for State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele to resign when his now ex-wife was convicted of drug trafficking.

Sizani was a seasoned and effective cadre capable of getting things done, Mantashe said.

Asked why he wasn’t replaced sooner, Motshekga said: “Immediately post-Mangaung there was going to be the state of the nation address and you can’t get a new person to prepare for such an important thing, and then there were the budget (votes). It would have been risky to put such work in new hands. Now these have finished and I can hand over.”

Being a backbencher was one of the most important positions in Parliament.

Motshekga would continue as an MP as long as the party needed his services and said he was not planning to resign after 2014. – Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis

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