Parliament diary: Peace no more.

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It took little more than 24 hours for the truce between parties negotiated by Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday to fall apart. The ANC blamed the DA’s insistence on pressing ahead with a debate on whether President Zuma should be censured for non-appearance in Parliament as grounds for discarding the armistice. But the opposition argued that the debate going ahead was always part of the deal. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Filibustering – the procedure used to waste time to delay a vote on a given proposal – appears to be all the rage in this fifth Parliament of the democratic South Africa.

When the DA used the tactic last week to try to delay voting through an exonerating Parliamentary report on Nkandla, the party came in for stern criticism from ANC leaders and Parliamentary officials the following day.

Fast forward a week, however, and the ANC had apparently decided that what was good for the goose was good for the gander. The ruling party took the extraordinary step of getting its MPs to introduce multiple spurious motions in order to delay a debate on President Zuma’s continuing Parliamentary no-show.

It’s an unusual step because filibustering is usually used by opposition parties who know they have no chance of significantly altering the outcome of a vote, but wish to delay it until some deadline has passed.

In South Africa’s Parliament, where the ANC commands over 62% of all seats, and has alliances with smaller bodies like the National Freedom Party, the ruling party is assured of having every vote go the way its leaders choose – bar some gross insubordination from its MPs.

In the context of Wednesday’s session, the ANC was always going to be able to vote down the DA’s proposal to censure the president. That they chose to embark on a filibuster regardless is a remarkable sign of just how much the ruling party did not wish the matter to be put up for debate. It is grist to the mill of those who claim that the role of ANC MPs is increasingly to protect President Zuma.

The day started with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa answering a number of generally insignificant questions in the National Assembly. On the order sheet, it had been indicated that DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane would ask a question related to Zuma’s Parliamentary non-attendance. This was removed from the agenda, however, in accordance with the “rule of anticipation”: because the matter would be dealt with later in the debate.

It didn’t take long for things to fall apart, with Ramaphosa presenting himself as hurt and blindsided by the DA’s decision to pursue this avenue – in what he claimed was a contravention of Tuesday’s understanding of how Parliament would operate from now on.

“[The South African people] felt for once an incredible window had been opened for this House to regain its stature, its standing among our people as a House that can be respected,” Ramaphosa said. “And I think that position is [hanging in the] balance this afternoon.”

In a subsequent statement, Ramaphosa called the DA’s decision to proceed with the censure motion “inconsistent with the understanding reached in the meeting of party leaders in Tuynhuys yesterday”. He added that it was “a matter of deep regret that, at this critical moment in the life of our Parliament, the leadership of the DA has chosen to subordinate national interests in favour of narrow party political interests”.

We weren’t far into the National Assembly session when ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani, too, put out a statement saying that the ANC was “completely taken aback by the DA’s decision”.

“By reneging on this agreement a mere 24 hours after it was agreed, the DA has acted dishonestly, dishonourably and has undermined the entire intervention,” Sizani wrote.

But the DA argued that the censure debate was in the spirit of ensuring that the rules of Parliament are followed, and that the Executive is held to account.

Moreover, Maimane said that the DA had “explicitly agreed with [Sizani] that we will proceed with the motion. He asked for 24 hours delay, so that he could have the chance to explain developments to his caucus”.

The DA believes that more “radical” elements of the ANC Parliamentary caucus were outraged that Sizani had granted this concession – hence the face-saving statements of dismay, and the decision to go the filibuster route.

And so, again, we saw an endless series of trivial motions proposed for debate as a delaying tactic – this time by ANC MPs.

  • This House must debate the abuse of freedom of speech by opposition parties.
  • This House must debate how the ANC has made it possible for everyone in South Africa to have a political home.
  • This House must debate how the ANC has changed lives for the better.
  • This House must debate how much progress the ANC has made since 1994 – prompting the inevitable DA heckle: “It’ll take ten minutes!”
  • This House must debate whether the SAPS needs protection from the DA.
  • Repeatedly, this House must debate the flurry of racist incidents in the [DA-led] Western Cape.
  • This House must debate the loneliness of Mmusi Maimane.

Bizarrely, the DA initially seemed to forget that they were the ones who wanted the debate to go ahead – and plunged into the meaningless comedy of return spurious motions.

  • This House must debate whether to launch a missing persons’ hunt for Jacob Zuma.
  • This House must debate whether an amnesty is required for the Nkandla chickens – prompting a cry of “juvenile!” from ANC Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin, who also suggested that the opposition should note that in the US senate, it is permissible for senators to be forcibly removed.

Some of the more substantive contributions of the day were made by the Economic Freedom Fighters, who were represented via a skeleton caucus, with leaders Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Andile Mngxitama and Godrich Gardee all absent. It has become increasingly apparent that it is entirely possible for chaos to rule in the National Assembly without a great deal of EFF involvement, despite the fact that the party has repeatedly been fingered as lowering the tone of the Parliament.

Perhaps the nadir of Parliamentary absurdity was reached, however, when EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela asked the Deputy Speaker whether it was “Parliamentary” for Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to “chew Chappies in the House”.

Maybe it’s unfair to pick just that moment, though, in a session characterised by kindergarten-like displays from all the major parties. Agang’s Andries Tlouamma proposed a debate on whether MPs were “bewitched”, which caused Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to be rendered mute by giggles. Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was accused of flipping the bird at the DA, as seems to happen at least once per Parliamentary session these days. Cronin asked DA MP David Maynier to take a breathalyzer test.

Amidst this mayhem, the EFF managed to push through – without objections – a motion proposing the eventual nationalisation of South Africa’s marijuana reserves.

But eventually the debate on Zuma’s Parliamentary no-show could not be delayed. The DA has argued that Zuma’s failure to appear before Parliament to take questions four times this year is a contravention of Parliamentary rules, and indicative of a wider disdain for the institution from the president. The DA’s Maimane called for a special sitting of the National Assembly to take place next week in order for Zuma to answer questions, arguing that no other business in South Africa closes on 21 November.

Maimane urged MPs to vote for a censure of Zuma, saying that to do so would be to vote to uphold the Constitution.

The ANC’s Mathole Motshekga called the motion “repugnant”, and said it illustrated the opposition’s “Constitutional illiteracy”.

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery gave probably the most convincing defence – relatively speaking – of Zuma’s failure to appear before Parliament, reading from the attendance records of past presidents to make the point that during election years, it is inevitable that the president will have less time to attend. In 2004’s election year, he pointed out, Thabo Mbeki appeared before Parliament just once. In a decade, he said, this has never been such a big issue.

Opposition parties generally backed the DA’s insistence that Zuma appear, but there was some indication that the smaller parties were aggrieved that the DA was placing the Ramaphosa-brokered agreement in jeopardy.

One of the more lucid speeches of the night was delivered by the EFF’s Sipho Mbatha, who said candidly: “The biggest losers if last night’s agreement falls apart is us” – a reference to the fact that part of the negotiation involved suspending disciplinary action against EFF MPs.

Seeking to downplay the sense of an alliance building between the EFF and the DA, Mbatha also said – paraphrasing 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston – “The EFF does not have permanent friends. The EFF has permanent interests.”

Though the IFF supported the DA’s call for Zuma to appear before Parliament next week, they appeared to do a bit of a switcheroo before the vote was due: proposing an amended version of the DA’s motion which dispensed with explicit censure of Zuma, saying only that it was not ideal that the president had been unable to attend Parliament four times.

This threw the ANC ranks into seeming disarray, with MPs not knowing if they should support this motion or not. ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani and Minister Jeff Radebe were seen urgently speaking with IFP leaders in the voting break, after which Sizani announced that the ruling party wanted one problematic line amended before they would support it.

Deputy Speaker Tsenoli dismissed this on the grounds that the vote had already been called, and ANC MPs consequently voted against the IFP amendment. Maimane’s motion to censure Zuma was similarly dismissed: four abstentions, 78 ‘ayes’, 217 ‘no’s.

ANC MPs left the National Assembly singing and dancing. Victory was theirs – but another shambolic Parliamentary session would seem to give ordinary South Africans rather less to celebrate. DM

Article by :  Rebecca Davis.

Article source : Daily Maverick.