The big – and strange – moments in Parliament in 2019
There were a few themes emerging from Plein Street this year which are worth reminiscing about.
(Standing Ovation) President Cyril Ramaphosa responding to the Debate on the State of the Nation Address at the Joint Sitting of Parliament in the National Assembly. President Ramaphosa delivered the State of the Nation Address on 07 February 2019 with a focus on economic development, job creation and enhancing the capacity of the state. Political parties had the opportunity, in a debate, to reinforce or critique the President’s overview of where the country is positioned at present and his vision for where South Africa should be headed. 14/02/2019, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS
Much of Parliament’s time in 2019 was spent rushing through grunt work, but it also saw some crazier events, such as an EFF MP caught slapping a policeman, to Minister Pravin Gordhan’s podium being stormed during his budget vote speech.
The year 2019 saw the end of the Fifth Parliament and the start of the sixth, which meant a long recess ahead of the election, the induction of the new MPs and then another long recess.
There were, however, a few themes emerging from Plein Street this year which are worth reminiscing about.
Ramaphosa dodging Bosasa questions
When Parliament got going at the start of the year, there was a cloud hanging over the governing ANC and its leader, Cyril Ramaphosa – Bosasa.
In the run-up to Ramaphosa’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona) of the year, former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi dropped bombshell after bombshell at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, detailing how a large coterie of ANC members – some in Cabinet – allegedly benefited from the company’s largesse. The company’s business model depended on getting tenders from the State.
Ramaphosa was embroiled in this matter himself, as it was revealed in 2018 that his campaign to become the ANC’s president got a donation from Bosasa boss Gavin Watson and that his son, Andile, did business with Bosasa.
In the debate following Ramaphosa’s lukewarm, at best, Sona, opposition speaker after opposition speaker hammered on Bosasa.
But then Ramaphosa replied: Nothing about Bosasa.
This situation repeated itself in the debate after Ramaphosa’s second Sona of the year in June after his reelection, when he again did not say a word on Bosasa in his response to the debate.
In March, during a question session, Ramaphosa refused to disclose how much his son Andile’s contract with Bosasa was worth. In another question session, in August, Ramaphosa managed to dodge a question on Bosasa reportedly stuffing the ANC campaign coffers ahead of the 2014 elections, ironically by invoking the advice of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane.
Kicking the expropriation without compensation can down the road
After a massive public participation process and much contestation, Parliament, in late 2018, passed a resolution to amend Section 25 of the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation. This after the EFF, in February 2018, brought a motion to that effect to the National Assembly. The ANC had little choice but to support the motion because it had adopted a resolution in support of expropriation without compensation.
However, when the Fifth Parliament rose in March 2019 ahead of the elections, the process was nowhere near a draft amendment, and the matter was passed on to the Sixth Parliament.
As the Sixth Parliament got going, it was not particularly quick out of the blocks. The first meeting of the ad hoc committee to amend section 25 only met in September, and even then got off to a false start when the ANC did not have enough members present for the committee to quorate.
By year-end, the committee has published a draft amendment bill, which is now open for public participation. Some concerns have been raised that the bill is open for public comment while most of South Africa are on December leave.
EFF vs “Jamanandas”
In July, as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan made his way to the podium to deliver his department’s budget vote speech, EFF MP Sam Matiase said the party refused to be addressed by a “constitutional delinquent”.
Matiase referred to Mkhwebane’s reports related to the establishment of a “rogue unit” at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) while Gordhan was its commissioner and the re-appointment of former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.
After several EFF MPs raised similar points of order, House chairperson Grace Boroto said they should all leave the chamber.
Matiase then led the charge against Gordhan, literally, by approaching the podium, with his colleagues in tow, while Boroto called on the parliamentary security services to come in to eject the EFF MPs.
“No, no, no. Don’t point fingers… They must touch me. They must touch me!” Gordhan said as ANC MPs helped him get away from the podium.
With the EFF ejected, Gordhan continued with his speech, saying what had just happened was the “defence of state capture”. He said he would not be intimidated.
“We’ve survived apartheid, we’ll survive this fascist populism,” Gordhan added.
Parliament’s rules committee referred the EFF MPs who stormed him, to the powers, privileges and immunities committee. They also staged a walkout when Gordhan addressed the House during the debate on Ramaphosa’s second Sona of the year.
The EFF’s vendetta against Gordhan – whom they tend to call Jamnandas, a play on his second name Jamnadas – started round about the same time as its financials became under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the VBS looting scandal.
It is against this backdrop that it has also become staunch supporters of Mkhwebane, having previously apologised for voting for her appointment.
It was not the only time the EFF’s propensity for violence reared its head in the parliamentary precinct during 2019.
EFF MP Marshall Dlamini was seen on video slapping a police officer in civilian clothing earlier this year as MPs were leaving the National Assembly building on February 7 after Ramaphosa had delivered his Sona.
A charge of assault is currently being heard in a Cape Town court.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, in a statement, claimed Dlamini’s slap was in response to a right-wing threat against the life of their leader, Julius Malema.
According to Ndlozi, the EFF was told that the Parliamentary Security Service, also known as “white shirts” or “bouncers”, have been infiltrated by right-wing groups and targeted the occasion of Sona to execute the “assassination”.
Malema would later smile in the glare of the media’s cameras outside the National Assembly, minutes after his party claimed there was an “assassination threat” on his life.
Another reading of the situation has it that Malema, his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, and Dlamini were in a rush to get outside and did not take kindly to being asked to wait for the presidential procession.
Goodbye, Mmusi (and others)
In 2014, when the Fifth Parliament was constituted, the loudest cheer for any DA member being sworn in went to Mmusi Maimane. He was duly elected the party’s parliamentary leader and his speeches were always met with standing ovations from the DA benches (and groans or mocking cries of “dumelang bagaetsho” from the ANC).
His departure, however, was met with much less fanfare. The day before he announced his resignation, the bench where for more than four years he had scribbled notes, frowned or shook his head, was empty.
Following his resignation, the party was faced with a leadership crisis, not only internally, but also in its parliamentary caucus. When the dust settled, Maimane’s chief whip, John Steenhuisen, was elected the party’s parliamentary leader. He appointed Natasha Mazzone, who led the DA’s charge on state-owned enterprises during the Fifth Parliament, as his chief whip. Being an election year, this was not the only remarkable change in the inhabitants of the parliamentary benches.
Several high-ranking ANC and former Cabinet members like Bathabile Dlamini, Derek Hanekom and Nomvula Mokonyane did not take up their seats, as did the Fifth Parliament’s speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbethe.
Long-serving MPs Cheryllyn Dudley of the ACDP and Joan Fubbs of the ANC were not up for re-election, while the Fifth Parliament’s chairperson of the standing committee on public accounts, the APC’s Themba Godi did not garner enough votes for re-election. A similar fate befell Agang’s eccentric Andries Tlouamma.
Among the new faces there was a noticeable presence of young, black women, with the likes of the ANC’s Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, EFF’s Naledi Chirwa, and DA’s Siviwe Gwarube all making an impression during the debate on Ramaphosa’s post-election Sona.
The FF Plus also has female MPs for the first time, in Tammy Breedt and Heloise Jordaan.
Patricia de Lille’s GOOD, Jimmy Manyi’s ATM and Ganief Hendricks Al Jamah-ah all made it to the National Assembly for the first time.