What did (and didn't) happen in Parliament this term

Cape Town - It has been a term of mixed fortunes for many political actors in Parliament, with inner party battles setting the tone for the legislature's work this second term.

Parliament shuts up shop for four weeks from Friday. We take a look at some of the biggest talking points and disappearing acts from the house these last two months.

Gordhan v Eskom board

The portfolio committee of public enterprises was a show-stopper this term.

The deployment of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan as an ANC member of the committee breathed new life into its watchdog role over South Africa’s state-owned enterprises.

Gordhan returned with a bang as an MP after being axed as Finance Minister on the second last day of the last term in President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle.

He led the charge when Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and now former chairperson Ben Ngubane appeared before the committee to account for Molefe’s controversial reappointment.

The subsequent furore led to Molefe's reappointment being rescinded (inadvertently ending his three-month stint as an MP as well), Ngubane resigning as chairperson, and an inquiry into Eskom being approved.


It was a heated term for new Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, who inherited a police cluster seemingly at war with itself in late March.

The battle between the SAPS and police watchdog IPID became a public spectacle on May 16, with then acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane and IPID head Robert McBride taking turns to sling mud in the Old Assembly.

IPID recommended Phahlane be suspended while a probe into his R8m home continues. Phahlane, in turn, alleged IPID had been "captured" by private investigator Paul O'Sullivan.

Mbalula was asked to step in, and he did so decisively, requesting President Jacob Zuma relieve Phahlane of his duties and replace him with Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba.

The police itself is going through an overhaul under Mbalula, who indicated plans to place social workers at every police station in the country for female victims of male abuse. He also wants to redo the police's entire budget.

Turning SABC around

With the report of the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC board done and an interim board appointed in March, the hard slog began this term to return the SABC to a modicum of something resembling good corporate governance.

The interim board, led by Khanyisile Kweyama, presented their plans to the portfolio committee, which was met with general approval.

The new minister of communications, Ayanda Dlodlo, also made a good impression and seems to be a safe pair of hands at the helm of the public broadcaster, compared to her predecessor Faith Muthambi, who was found by the ad hoc committee to be "incompetent".

Parliament v workers

Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana has courted controversy for all the wrong reasons this term. He is the subject of an "internal audit committee" probe into allegations that he has acted irregularly as secretary.

Some of the allegations include irregularly hiring senior staff, unauthorised travel expenditure and awarding himself a study bursary at the expense of junior staff.

Nehawu workers downed tools after it was announced there would be a salary freeze for lower tier Parliament workers in 2017.

Mgidlana was subsequently granted special leave on June 9, with workers celebrating the small victory.

They, however, said it was not enough, and want him gone from Parliament for good, saying he is unfit to hold office.

Scopa relishes its watchdog role

The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) continued to take its oversight role seriously, guarding the public purse jealously, albeit retrospectively.

The SABC had to account for the public broadcaster's shambolic finances, including a contract given to a company to investigate the SABC's irregular expenditure, which was apparently awarded irregularly.

The department of water and sanitation was also skewered for accruing more than R1.5bn in unpaid debt from past financial years.

Even when threatened with a lawyer's letter, Scopa continued its investigation into the Department of Correctional Services' murky dealings with Integritron Integrated Solutions.


Motion of no confidence

It was the "will they, won't they" saga of the term, despite Parliament having gone through these motions on seven previous occasions during Zuma's eight-year stint as president thus far.

An urgent motion of no confidence was initially scheduled during the first term recess in April following Zuma's now infamous Cabinet reshuffle on March 30.

That date was then postponed following an application to the Constitutional Court by the United Democratic Movement to have the vote cast by secret ballot for the first time.

The court ruled last week on June 22 that Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete has the power to decide on a secret ballot.

Mbete on Friday scheduled the motion for August 3. She will make a decision on the secret ballot after all parties have submitted viewpoints by July 14.

No strong action on the #Guptaleaks

With the so-called Gupta leaks gushing tales of shame and degradation, Parliament has done little to clear the muddied water of state capture.

Mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane told a press briefing at Parliament he hasn't read the e-mails, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba complained to the media that there is a campaign against him, and when quizzed in his quarterly question session, President Jacob Zuma defended his son Duduzane.

Parliament's chair of chairs, Cedric Frolick, instructed the portfolio committees on home affairs, public enterprises, mineral resources and transport to investigate state capture, an approach decried by the DA as inadequate. 

The portfolio committee on home affairs started with an investigation into Gigaba's granting of early naturalisation of some members of the Gupta-family.

Gigaba didn't show up for this meeting, and some ANC MPs didn't seem particularly enthusiastic to get to the bottom of state capture.

EFF v Zuma showdown

The EFF continued their boycott of the National Assembly when Zuma was due to speak.

This meant the "white shirts" didn't have much to do, but importantly, Zuma's question session lacked a bit of spice.

Violence against women action

Although technically speaking, there was a debate scheduled on violence against women in June, it was delivered to a less than half-full National Assembly.

What made it more disheartening, was that the assembly was packed for Zuma's presidency budget reply just before that. Most members of the Cabinet, ANC caucus, and a handful of opposition MPs left at the reply's conclusion.

It wasn't any more encouraging for Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, either.

She received criticism for her choice of words when describing murder victim Karabo Mokoena as "weak". She later had to clarify that she meant vulnerable.

The debate on Shabangu's ministry budget also descended into a farcical shouting match in May, with opposition MPs eventually walking out.

DA MP Terri Stander and ANC MPs exchanged barbs during Stander's speech, and the issue was overshadowed by party politics yet again.

Time will tell if Police Minister Fikile Mbalula's wide-scale promises to ramp up police action at station level will bare fruit for South Africa's women.


* New energy minister Mmamoloko Kubayi revealed the sale of South Africa’s strategic fuel stocks was illegal and not merely a rotation of stocks, as had been reported. She ordered a probe into the matter, and criminal charges are in the pipeline for fuel fund executives involved in the sale.

* Parliament has also agreed to probe how political parties receive funding in South Africa. It set up an ad hoc committee to investigate, to be chaired by ANC MP Vincent Smith, who formerly chaired the SABC inquiry successfully.

Parliament goes on recess on Friday, June 30, and returns again on July 31.

The National Assembly will sit earlier than planned when it debates the motion of no confidence in Zuma on August 3.

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