Guest Column

Spineless ANC MPs must grow backbones for SA’s sake

2017-05-21 06:07
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa Picture: Lulama Enzile

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa Picture: Lulama Enzile

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Tebego Khaas

If sympathy be the food of political invertebrates, then a litany of ANC MPs risk starvation.

Let me explain.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe recently proclaimed that “no army can allow its foot soldiers to be commanded by an enemy army’s generals”.

With those terse words, the political die was cast for ANC MPs still fumbling for their souls.

Parliament will soon reconvene and MPs will, once again, be required to consider a matter most would probably prefer not to be seized with.

ANC parliamentary lists are determined almost always arbitrarily, if not surreptitiously. Members owe their participation in Parliament to the political whims of party apparatchiks and internal party dynamics.

Consequently, many often find themselves in invidious positions when the interests of the party are at odds with those of the public.

However, MPs need reminding that they, and not their respective parties, take the prescribed oath of office and commit themselves to its demands.

It is therefore untenable for MPs to hide behind the veil of “party line” when they are expected to safeguard and advance the interests of the public.

They claim to be powerless when all they appear is spineless.

There are two types of invertebrate ANC MPs.

The first are MPs who complain bitterly in the privacy and comfort of their abodes about the conduct of the president or members of his executive, only to quietly become complaisant when instructed to suspend their conscience.

They clearly have no qualms sleeping with the proverbial hares and hunting with the hounds.

The second are MPs who publicly admonish the president or members of his executive, but swoon at the prospect of holding them accountable.

While they relish the hubris derived from public adulation of their outspokenness, they immediately also turn complaisant when reminded about why they were elevated to the National Assembly.

The fact that they practically shirk their responsibilities to an inept ANC national executive committee further diminishes any justification for sympathy.

MPs must choose between selling their souls and doing what the Constitution enjoins them to: hold the executive accountable on behalf of the people – without fear, favour or prejudice.

Of course, taking a principled stand may pose considerable financial difficulties for some MPs as they risk being recalled.

Evidently, the current electoral and party-based parliamentary system serves self-serving parties well as it confers unto party leaders a pernicious lever over public representatives.

Since the electoral system does not provide a mechanism for members of the public to hold MPs directly accountable for their actions, the ANC has no incentive to acquiesce to public clamour to act against the malfeasance and misfeasance of President Jacob Zuma.

Its objection to allowing its MPs to be guided by their conscience as they consider the motion of no confidence against Zuma is founded mainly on a flimsy argument that this motion was an initiative of opposition parties.

In doing so, the ANC – as do almost all the other political parties in the National Assembly, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters and the DA – is ominously reducing democratic spaces for MPs by depriving them of their right to caucus and vote with their conscience. This puts our nascent democracy in peril.

It is not only undesirable, but ominously reminiscent of the then exiled ANC security department’s choking of dissent within its ranks.

Lest we forget, struggle icon Chris Hani and some of his exiled Umkhonto weSizwe comrades, liberation struggle accounts reveal, heroically endured wrongful suspension from the ANC for merely submitting a memorandum of reasonable grievances to their leaders. Hani even miraculously escaped assassination for this.

While there may have been some remote justification for an exiled ANC to act in an ironclad and paranoid manner, this is deeply regrettable of a governing party that championed this democratic dispensation.

The ANC is short-changing the public by treating its parliamentary representatives with apparent contempt.

Although the current political mood is different to when previous motions of no confidence were attempted, it is unlikely that this motion will succeed even if it were to be conducted through a secret ballot.

History will be sympathetic to those MPs who, in spite of their employment prospects in Parliament being threatened, remain steadfast in their defence of ideals that will live on.

It will, however, judge harshly those who “occasionally lose their conscience” at the altar of political expediency.

Martyred black consciousness leader Steve Biko eminently wrote: “It is better to die for an ideal that will live than to live for an ideal that will die.”

If our freedom and democracy be the ideals Hani and Biko espoused – and for which former president Nelson Mandela was prepared to die – surely ANC MPs’ altruism in the coming weeks will serve a tonic nourishment to our founding fathers’ ideals as enshrined in our Constitution.

Such selflessness and valour will guarantee them a place in the pantheons of history.

But, then again, don’t hold your breath.

Khaas is a political commentator and chairperson of Corporate SA. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas

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