ANC’s factions laid bare in Parliament

DA gives Mmusi Maimane standing ovation after his speech in the presidency's budget debate. (Jan Gerber, News24)
DA gives Mmusi Maimane standing ovation after his speech in the presidency's budget debate. (Jan Gerber, News24)

The ANC’s factional fights ahead of the party’s national elective conference have not only spilt over to Parliament, but they are contaminating the work of its MPs and how they approach their oversight role.

Over the past few months, faction-driven disagreements have overtly presented themselves in Parliament.

Who can forget the daring boycott of a parliamentary meeting by five ANC MPs because the meeting was chaired by then MP Makhosi Khoza, a loud critic of President Jacob Zuma?

There was also an awkward shouting match between ANC MP Peace Mabe and finance committee chairperson Yunus Carrim (also of the ANC) over the committee’s approach in holding SAA and its chairperson, Dudu Myeni, to account.

Mabe had charged that an ANC study group – which is an internal ANC committee – had not agreed on the approach that Carrim and the committee were following.

As these comrades battle each other in their efforts to outsmart and embarrass those of a different faction, the real work of Parliament, their oversight function, takes a back seat.

On Tuesday, for instance, the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services was a scene for the factional mud-slinging with committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga on one side (supported by the opposition) and his ANC comrades on the other.

Three institutions, one of them the SA Human Rights Commission, appeared before the committee to account for the audit outcomes of the past financial year.

Some MPs had one thing on their minds: launching a defence against the possible removal of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

“When is he tabling this Public Protector issue?” mumbles one ANC MP during the commission’s session.

“It’s coming, that’s why I called you for backup,” comes the response, as the two continuously caucus about the matter in Nguni.

Knives came out

No eyebrows are raised when the human rights body reports a spike in hate speech complaints, or that over 90% of municipalities do not comply with the Promotion of Information Act.

There isn’t even a reaction when the SA Human Rights Commission reports that only 8% of its budget is allocated to project work.

Imagine if Thuli Madonsela had made such a revelation.

“We are proud that we appointed you to this commission. We appointed the best people. You’ve been doing well,” MPs assured the commission.

MPs echoed this sentiment when responding to the newly established information regulator, headed by Pansy Tlakula. The organisation hasn’t done much work because it has neither the necessary staff nor the accommodation.

When Motshekga finally introduced the public protector matter, the knives came out.

The matter concerns a DA request to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete for Parliament to institute removal proceedings against Mkhwebane.

While Mbete referred the DA’s request to the justice committee 15 days ago for consideration, the item was not on Tuesday’s agenda.

This despite Motshekga’s announcement to journalists last weekend that he would introduce the matter to the committee for consideration.

This was during the same weekend that he appeared on a stage in Hillbrow alongside ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is campaigning to be the party’s next president.

Infighting

ANC MPs in the Motshekga-led committee are known to be Zuma supporters.

A month ago, they unsuccessfully tried to stonewall a presentation on the implementation of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s 2010 remedial action calling for the tightening of law around acceptance of gifts by members of the executive.

This after Madonsela found Zuma in breach of the executive’s code of ethics for his failure to declare his interests as required by law.

On Tuesday Motshekga proposed that, due to his committee’s tight schedule, Mbete should be asked to initiate a process of establishing an ad hoc committee to address concerns about Mkhebane.

He explained that, since the Public Protector was appointed by an ad hoc committee, another ad hoc committee should decide on her possible removal.

Precedent had also been set, Motshekga argued, in 2009 when Parliament established a joint ad hoc committee to deal with the axing of then National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli.

“There is precedent … I propose that we refer the matter to the Speaker on those grounds,” he concluded.

This had the support of opposition parties, but ANC MPs wouldn’t hear any of it.

They voted to keep the Public Protector complaint in their committee, while murmuring rather loudly “sizokubonisa” and “myeke wena”.

Five days earlier, in Motshekga’s absence, the same MPs heaped praise on Mkhwebane, applauding her discredited instruction to Parliament to amend the constitution and change the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank.

Mkhwebane later withdrew the controversial remedial action and did not oppose it when the Reserve Bank challenged it in court.

The decision to keep the Mkhwebane complaint in the justice committee was a calculated move.

It will most likely be smothered and killed before anyone can even say “public protector”.

On Wednesday, the opposition party called on Zuma to suspend the Public Protector while the inquiry takes place.

It is unlikely that the ANC or any of its factions would support the DA complaint, particularly since the successful establishment of the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC last year at the insistence of one ANC faction is still a sore point for some and they wouldn’t take such chances any time soon.

While the governing party’s infighting makes for interesting tweets and keeps everyone awake in dreary parliamentary meetings, it is worrying that they take precedent over the real work of Parliament.

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