Monday, January 24

SA’s new speaker of parliament has sparked controversy, for good reason

On Thursday, August 19, members of the South African National Assembly physically met for the first time in a long time. They met in various places in parliament to achieve sufficient distance in the pandemic. And there was only one point in the order document: the election of a Spokesperson.

This was duly done and the former Defense Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, was chosen for the position.


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The Speaker of South Africa presides over the proceedings of the National Assembly. They are also the titular head of parliament as a whole, including the National Council of Provinces. The President is elected by the majority of the members of the assembly and can be removed in the same way.

The Speaker is responsible for providing political leadership and strategic direction to the National Assembly. And they must do so in a nonpartisan way.

Why was this an important temperature control for the state of health of South Africa’s constitutional democracy?

This question must be answered in the context of the entrenched identity politics that characterize the country’s long history of racial oppression and its consequences. relatively recent reversal. Therefore, it would have been unrealistic in the early years of democracy to expect a conscious adherence to the unwritten rules and conventional spirit that ideally should prevail in parliament. But the expectation was that this would be achieved gradually.

In fact, those who took office immediately after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 he did it with distinction. Yet for most of the past 15 years, the president has been both weak and partisan, and was responsible for allowing the executive, particularly that of former president Jacob Zuma, to behave in a way that has discredited to the government.

The election of the new president was therefore a significant moment for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to show that it was moving away from its “wasted years” under Zuma.

The test failed. The rise of Mapisa-Nqakula to this important constitutional office reflects extremely badly on the party leadership. It stands in stark contrast to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s often stated commitment to uncorrupted governance and to constitution values.

A brief history of paper

The title given to the highest authority in parliament originated in the English parliament in the late 1300s. He then described the person who “spoke” on behalf of the monarch. After the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, the president became the speaker of the House of Commons.

South Africa inherited that position and title as a former British colony, along with nearly every other member of the Commonwealth.

Every legislature needs someone to preside over its procedures, manage and administer support services, oversee the exercise of discipline among its members, and represent it in discussions with the executive and judicial arms of government.

Various approaches are taken towards the impartiality and independence of the position of Spokesperson.

In the UK, a Member of Parliament is immediately elected President. after a general election. The person is usually a member of the ruling party, but does not have to be. In the election, the deputy ceases to be a member of the party bench.

In the USA. Speaker of the House of Representatives it is drawn from the upper ranks of the majority party in the lower house of Congress. They play a partisan role, balanced with a degree of fair play towards all members of the household.

Most other national constitutions place their equivalent of the Speaker between these two approaches.

What does the job entail?

As a parliamentarian website provides, the Spokesperson’s responsibilities include:

  • preserve the parliamentary integrity and decorum of the house,
  • ensure the proper functioning of legislative affairs and the functioning of committees,
  • to impartially preside over the sessions and maintain order.

The president represents the parliament as a whole. Their responsibilities include ensuring a sufficient budget for their activities, monitoring expenditures and providing support to all parliamentarians, and initiating or responding to any litigation in court.

In South African terms Constitution, the Speaker heads the legislative branch of government and must act as its champion at all times, both nationally and internationally. This is particularly the case with your relationship with the executive.

The effective fulfillment of all these functions requires a highly efficient, dignified, respected and wise PM. The experience of the last 27 years has been uneven.

Speakers Rollcall

An exemplary beginning was the Brake Ginwala, who served during the first decade of democratic government. She ruled with a firm but fair hand, and presided over many initiatives to transform parliament from its role as a lap dog under apartheid to the vision set forth in the constitution. Ideally, parliament represents the electorate and also plays an effective role in regulating the exercise of executive power.

Max sisulu (2009-2014) and later Thandi modise (2019-2021) broadly followed Ginwala’s approach.

Unfortunately, the double tenure (2004-2008 and 2014-2019) of Get out of bed It was well below the expectations of the Spokesman’s office. During her tenure, particularly her second term, she was frequently accused of treating opposition parliamentarians less favorably than government parliamentarians. She was also accused of blocking of parliamentary investigations in actions of the ruling ANC, in particular Zuma.

In fact, in May of this year, he testified in the Zondo Commission about the state capture that had ignored the report of an anonymous whistleblower alleging corruption in 2007. And, he said, if you were asked to decide how to respond to such a report today, you would do it again.

Faulty system

The issues surrounding the role of the Speaker in South Africa are rooted in the autocratic racism of our past. The ability to transcend it is eroded by the electoral system and by the organizing principle of the ANC.

the party list proportional representation model it means that only loyal party members will be elected to any legislature in the country. This leads to the tendency to put the interests of the parties before those of the country.

This is substantially aggravated by the “Democratic centralist” on the basis of which the ANC is modeled. This approach argues that some degree of disagreement and debate is tolerated within closed party meetings, but that once the majority makes a decision or policy, all party members must uncritically adhere to that line.

The consequences for any speaker are obvious.

By definition, someone who is appointed Speaker will be a high-ranking member of the ruling party, steeped in its history, culture, and traditions. This is unacceptably reinforced when the Spokesperson remains a party official, as seen with Mbete, who was the national president of the ANC while serving as Spokesperson.

Mapisa-Nqakula was chosen to serve as spokesperson after being removed from the cabinet after an absolutely indistinguishable period of 15 years. as cabinet minister in three portfolios.
She herself is the subject of investigation by a committee of Parliament to alleged unethical conduct. And he has been under a cloud for inexplicable and suspicious abuse of his authority multiple times.

Of parliament failure holding Zuma management accountable has been graphically and repeatedly illustrated as evidence to the Zondo Commission. Given this outrageous failure by parliament to meet its constitutional obligations, the prospects are bleak at best that the new president will tolerate, let alone initiate, more active and effective scrutiny in the years to come.

Controlling temperature reveals a weakened public governance system, unable to move away from the burdens of the past.The conversation

Hugh corder, Professor of Public Law, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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