by Hussein Solomon
There is a welcome new political maturity amongst South Africa’s political opposition which is a positive development. Following general elections earlier this year, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) appointed its National Chairperson, Ms. Baleke Mbete as the new Speaker of parliament. Eyebrows were raised since whilst the Speaker does emanate from the majority party, s/he is expected to stand above party politics and for this reason is not usually a party leader. Instead, the Speaker is expected to maintain the integrity of Parliament and stand above the fray of party politics.
|President Zuma with Ms. Baleke Mbete (Photo: GCIS)|
At the time of her appointment, then, speculation was rife amongst analysts that the reason for her deployment to Parliament had a lot to do with the perception amongst ANC leaders that she must go to Parliament to stifle dissent amongst ANC back-benchers and to muzzle the opposition. Indeed, the ANC had a torrid time in the previous National Assembly when cabinet ministers were taken to task by members of the political opposition and shown wanting. Meanwhile, ANC back-benchers walked out on key votes threatening the ANC’s majority. Ms. Mbete’s second tenure as Speaker proved pundits right. She has attempted to shield the executive from criticism whilst stifling debate on crucial questions. At the same time, she proved to have a rather thin skin when faced with probing questions regarding her own conduct. This is an unfortunate character trait in a Speaker of Parliament. At the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that the street brawl tactics of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) merely added fuel to the fire.
Given Ms. Mbete’s repeated attempts to shield the executive from scrutiny, members of the opposition decided that there was far more at stake than their personal egos and the changing fortunes of their respective political parties. What was at stake was nothing less than the future of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. At its core was a system of checks and balances with Parliament holding the executive to account for its actions and any abuses of power. Unfortunately the abuse of power seems to be characterizing the Zuma Administration and therefore there is a desperate need for a robust Parliament to play its role of watch-dog with tenacity.
As such the political opposition decided to unite in an effort to protect the integrity of Parliament and our constitutional democracy and call for a vote of no-confidence in the Speaker. Whilst a united opposition certainly do not make up the votes necessary to oust Ms. Mbete, given the ANC’s majority, it surely must be a wake-up call to the ANC. More importantly, its presages a new political maturity amongst the political opposition to make common cause in defence of South Africa’s hard-won democracy.