Guest Column

NDZ in Parliament might not be such a bad thing

2017-09-11 10:31
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (GCIS)

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (GCIS)

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Oliver Dickson

The ANC last week announced that it would redeploy Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to its parliamentary caucus. This call has sparked a myriad of speculations as to what this possibly means for the Zuma faction and its plans leading up to the December elective conference where Dlamini-Zuma will be a frontrunner for the ANC presidency.

But unless you have a crystal ball that can foretell what our political future holds, your speculations are exactly that – speculations.

No-one but those in the Zuma camp can with certainty say what this move means. Given that they are unlikely to tell us, we have to analyse only that which we know to be factually accurate.

So far, two things hold factually true. Dlamini-Zuma is contesting for the ANC presidency in December and will now be a member of Parliament once again.

Asking “what does this mean” is a less salient question than asking “what value does this hold?” and “is this necessary?” Those questions have a greater impact on our political evaluations. Here’s why.

Whether you like it or not, the ANC elective conference is as important as our national elections because it is here where our national president is elected. The ANC’s shrinking share in the electorate does cast doubt on this, but more likely than not, the the party will emerge victorious at the polls in 2019 by a narrow margin.

So whether you’re an ANC supporter or not, this elective conference is relevant to you.

It is therefore important that we are presented with equal opportunities to evaluate the frontrunners at the conference in structures that actually matter. One such structure is the National Assembly.

We can determine a lot about Cyril Ramaphosa’s stances on certain issues because we get to witness him respond to very strong questions by the opposition in Parliament. Similarly we get to evaluate Lindiwe Sisulu based on her parliamentary engagements. We unfortunately do not have such a body of work that we can currently evaluate Dlamini-Zuma on – specifically related to how she responds to the current political debate.

Deploying her to Parliament grants an opportunity to opposition parties to interrogate and debate her on pressing issues in equal measure to Ramaphosa.

Why does this matter?

If Dlamini-Zuma emerges victorious in December her victory will have an aftertaste of uncertainty given just how little we know about her vision for the ANC and the country. This is dangerous because it leaves business and civil society in the awkward situation of not knowing how to position themselves for the new trajectory of the country.

Crucially, we also need to interrogate whether Dlamini-Zuma is fit to serve in Parliament. And here the answer is an overwhelming yes.

Having served as a minister under four different presidents, she is no stranger to transitions. She has proven to be a fantastic legislator and administrator given the turn-around she administered in the Department of Home Affairs and her performance at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, which made her an attractive candidate for the chairperson of the African Union (AU) post where she eventually brought the organisation back into functionality. So we have no grounds to doubt that she is fit for Parliament.

We do, however, have to constantly and consistently question her on pressing issues. What does her proposed economic policy look like, what plan does she have to make available free, quality higher education, what does she have to say about the land reclamation project, does she have a job growth plan – specifically one aimed at young people? These are all important questions we need to ask her.

The speculations circling in political gossip columns is that Dlamini-Zuma’s addition to the ANC’s parliamentary caucus is the start of yet another Cabinet reshuffle with the intention of ousting Dr Blade Nzimande as Minister of Higher Education so that she can use that position as a springboard to garner support remain unsubstantiated, and many other variations of this story made its way into the public domain.

One other variation suggests that her deployment is part of President Jacob Zuma’s early exit strategy. A more colourful variation suggests that her deployment is part of a plot to unseat Ramaphosa as deputy presidency.

These stories are too conflicting for any of them to be reasonably worth engaging. Importantly, any and all action by Dlamini-Zuma will now fall under much clearer scrutiny and that is the real value of this deployment.

Democracy is strengthened when leaders are evaluated equally and this is the best possible way for us to interrogate all frontrunners equally and fairly. 

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

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