ANALYSIS | Parliamentary musical chairs: Ace denies he had a list, but here's who made it in

Faith Muthambi
Faith Muthambi

While ANC secretary general Ace Magashule holds fast that there was no "SG's list" for the chairpersons of Parliament's committees, several ANC MPs believed to be sympathetic to Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma will fill some of these positions. And most of them have a chequered past.  

MPs who were appointed ministers by Zuma, but spurned by Ramaphosa, who will now head up committees are Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane, Joe Maswanganyi and Bongani Bongo. Zuma-appointed deputy ministers Sfiso Buthelezi and Tandi Mahambehlala will also chair committees. 

Former North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo is also a chairperson. The former deputy minister and Zuma and Gupta-cheerleader Kebby Maphatsoe will be the ANC's whip in the police committee. 

This past weekend the Sunday Times reported that Ramaphosa's parliamentary counsellor, Gerhard Koornhof, had to intervene when he realised Magashule was pushing through his list before it was approved by Ramaphosa and the ANC's top 6. 

The ANC caucus meeting which was scheduled for last week to deal with the nominations was cancelled. 

Furthermore, City Press reported that Muthambi was earmarked to become the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice – a key committee in attempts to clean up state capture as it oversees the National Prosecuting Authority. This is also the committee that would be tasked with an inquiry into the Public Protector's fitness to hold office. In the end, the former deputy minister of trade and industry Gratitude Magwanishe got the job.

At a briefing announcing the nominations on Wednesday, Magashule was dismissive of the reports over the weekend.

"There was no confusion last week. There was no SG's list last week. The only thing we did was postpone because we needed to engage with the alliance," he said.

He also suggested to the assembled reporters to rather focus on reporting on the State of the Nation Address.

Both he and ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina denied that factionalism played a role in the selection of committee chairpersons.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen is not convinced.

"It is clear that Ramaphosa's attempts at forging a new dawn are being hampered by the ANC's factional fault lines – with Ramaphosa on one side and Ace Magashule on the other. The Magashule faction won this fight, and will do all it can to undermine all attempts at building a better South Africa for all," Steenhuisen said in a statement released shortly after the announcement of the chairpersons.

"The ANC's candidates for some of the committees are frankly shocking and show a complete disregard for the people of South Africa. Supra Mahumapelo, a Gupta acolyte who was basically chased out of the North West province has now been slated for the tourism committee. Faith Muthambi, who helped to run the SABC into the ground is now about to be put in charge of oversight over municipalities. Other strong Zupta allies alleged to have played instrumental roles in the capturing of the state, such as Mosebenzi Zwane and Bongani Bongo, are now in prime position to help capture Parliament," Steenhuisen said.

It should be pointed out that there are nominees for chairpersons quite firmly in the Ramaphosa camp, like Mondli Gungubele, Cedric Frolick and Mathole Motshekga. 

Frolick's appointment as chair of chair could be seen as a victory for the Ramaphosa-camp, as Nomvula Mokonyane was offered this influential position, before she decided not to take up her seat in the National Assembly.

However, little is known about the other nominated chairpersons to make a call on whether they belong to a faction. 

The committee chairpersons can play a key role in Parliament's mandate to exercise oversight over the executive. A committee chairperson to a large extent sets the agenda for what the committee will deal with. And if a committee chairperson wants to protect a minister, probing questions can easily be ruled out of order, a practice Muthambi might remember fondly from her visits to the Portfolio Committee on Communications during her tumultuous tenure in this portfolio. 

In short, a committee chairperson is a deciding factor on whether dirt is swept under the carpet or blown into the open.

The smallanyana skeletons of some nominated chairpersons include:

Faith Muthambi (Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs)

The minister of communications who failed to implement digital migration but ensured Hlaudi Motsoeneng's permanent appointment as SABC COO have been found by an ad hoc committee to be an "incompetent" communications minister. Parliament's legal services found that Muthambi's testimony before the committee "could be seen as an attempt to mislead the inquiry". Last year MPs, including her own comrades, thought she should be in jail. Muthambi flouted several public service regulations by making irregular appointments and ordering salary hikes for officials, among other transgressions, while she was minister of public service and administration, a report by the Public Service Commission (PSC) found. The Gupta Leaks revealed that she leaked confidential Cabinet documents to the Guptas and changed government policy in favour of MultiChoice after it increased its payment to Gupta-owned ANN7. 

Mosebenzi Zwane (Transport)

Zwane, who was appointed Free State MEC for agriculture by none other than then Free State premier Ace Magashule, was a key player in the Estina-scandal, where the Guptas looted an agricultural empowerment scheme to pay for the luxurious wedding in 2013. And so started his work for the Guptas. The Gupta Leaks show that the Guptas were sent Zwane's CV a month before Zuma appointed him minister of mineral resources, as well as that he took a trip to India on a Gupta plane where the Guptas picked up the bill for his accommodation. He flew on their jet, scored them a mine, tried to keep the banks from ditching them, and fought with Cabinet colleagues who didn't bend over backwards for them.

Bongani Bongo (Home Affairs)

Zuma elevated Bongo from the ANC's backbenches to minister of state security following one of his Cabinet reshuffles. He allegedly tried to bribe the evidence leader in the Portfolio Committee on State Enterprises' inquiry into state capture at Eskom. The complaint lodged about that by Steenhuisen at the Public Protector, has apparently gone missing. Parliament's ethics committee also investigated him for this. The outcome of this investigation is still a mystery.

Sfiso Buthelezi (Appropriations)

Appointed by Zuma as deputy minister of finance to replace Mcebisi Jonas, Buthelezi served as Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) board chairperson for six years, and spent the prior four years as a director. He was Prasa chairperson when former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana left the agency under a cloud of various corruption and looting scandals. The DA laid criminal charges against him based on the allegation that he benefitted from tenders awarded by Prasa. He denied the allegations. 

Supra Mahumapelo (Tourism)

He was stripped of the premiership of North West last year when the province was put under administration following widespread governance failures. A parliamentary inquiry is investigating corruption and maladministration in the province. He was also pictured last year with Magashule and Zuma. They have denied that they have been plotting to oust Ramaphosa.

Zukiswa Faku (Basic Education)

Faku, a former mayor of Buffalo City, was convicted on nine counts of fraud relating to the use of her official credit card and sentenced to three years' house arrest and community service in 2016, while an ANC MP.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson (Police)

Joemat-Pettersson was minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries from 2009 to 2014, when she was appointed as minister of energy, until she got the chop in Zuma's March 2017 Cabinet reshuffle, after which she resigned as MP. At the time, her removal was rumoured to be caused by Zuma's frustration that she dragged her feet on the nuclear deal with Russia. One of the controversies during her stint as energy minister was the sale of South Africa's crude oil reserves. At the time, Joemat-Pettersson denied that it was sold, but her successor, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, confirmed that it was indeed illegally sold.

Cedric Frolick (Chair of chairs)

Frolick held this position in the previous term as well. He was also the chairperson of the two ad hoc committees on Nkandla, which didn't find any wrongdoing on Zuma's behalf with regards to Nkandla. By the end of 2017, however, he was firmly in the Ramaphosa camp. Frolick was also linked to testimony at the Zondo commission, where he apparently organised accommodation for Justice Minister Michael Masutha in Port Elizabeth where he was approached by former Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson in 2016. 

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