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Land reform and other tough tasks await South Africa’s new parliament

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Tuesday, 21 May 2019 22:53

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa registers as a Member of Parliament following his African National Congress (ANC) party's May 8 election victory in Cape Town, South Africa, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

After a robust election campaign and a lull of no parliamentary activity, there's been a flurry activity in recent days with the legislature in Cape Town rolling out the red carpet welcoming newly elected members of parliament (MPs).

There’s a jovial atmosphere in and around the parliamentary precinct with older MPs welcoming the new ones – and even President Cyril Ramaphosa sharing a laugh with the new MPs.

The first sittings of the two houses of parliament – the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, with the country’s Chief Justice presiding over the swearing-in ceremony of all MPs.

In the same sitting, Justice Moegeng Mogoeng will also preside over the election of the president — Cyril Ramaphosa — who is selected from among the MPs in the NA.

According to a press release from parliament: “South Africa’s sixth parliament will have 400 members from 14 political parties whilst the NCOP will have 10 permanent and non-permanent delegates from each of the nine provinces – with four being special delegates and six are permanent delegates.”

Parliamentary seat allocation:

  • The African National Congress (ANC) has 230 seats. It lost 19 seats, and this puts the party 35 seats short of a two-thirds majority;
  • The Democratic Alliance (DA) will have 84 seats. It previously had 89;
  • In the previous parliament, the Economic Freedom Fighters only had 25 seats and will have 44 seats;
  • Freedom Front Plus has also expanded the number of MPs. In 2014, it only had four seats. Now it will have 10 MPs.
  • A not-so-new face will be the former mayor of Cape Town Patricia De Lille. Her GOOD Party won two seats.

The ANC’s dream team in parliament

The ANC has left no room open for rumour mongering and announced its nominations for the top parliamentary leadership positions ahead of the swearing-in ceremony. Led by Ramaphosa, the party chose former water affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane as the chair of chairs in the NA. It was widely expected that Mokonyane – who has been mentioned in the ‘state capture’ hearings – was likely headed for cabinet. Nominating her for the parliamentary post was likely a means to sideline her.

While some may see the move as a demotion, the chair of chair has an oversight role and is a position with power. In a role known as chairperson for committees, Monkonyane will have influence over parliamentary business.

The nominee for the powerful position of speaker of the house is veteran ANC leader and former NCOP speaker Thandi Modise. During the fifth parliament, she often stood in for Baleka Mbete, having to ensure rowdy MPs were brought to order.

The deputy speaker nominee is Lechesa Tsenoli, a man who does regular mindfulness training and is known for his calmness.

The former Johannesburg mayor and chairperson of parliament’s ethics committee Amos Masondo will be nominated to take up Thandi’s Modise’s old position as NCOP chair.

The former Eastern Cape public works member of the executive council, Pemmy Majodina will be the ANC’s chief whip. It was widely expected that the charismatic Jackson Mthembu would again be appointed to the position. “I have no power anymore. The cameras are no longer coming to me,”
Mthembu jokingly told journalists outside parliament.

But the ANC has a message to their newly elected MPs, with the ANC’s deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, telling the media:

“All 200-odd MPs are here. They have registered and are ready to be sworn in. They are going to lead our programme and manifesto. It is time to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work. We must leave the factions behind and make South Africa work for all of us.”

The DA’s priority list

Not be outdone, the official opposition, the DA, also held its first caucus meeting on the steps of parliament. DA leader Mmusi Maimane told a media briefing: “We want to ensure, more than anything, that this sixth parliament is alive and creative for the people […] indeed, a parliament that is responsive to the issues that South Africans face.”

Maimane said he also wants to establish a working group of opposition party leaders in which they will consider issues that “transcend party politics – on a case-by-case basis – and work together to charter a way forward that puts the interests of South Africa first.”

“With 9.9 million South Africans without a job, our biggest challenge remains creating work for those without,” said Maimane.

According to the parliamentary news site, Notes from the House, 40 bills are in the legislative pipeline.

There is a mammoth task ahead for the 400 Mps, with the constitutional amendment bill to give effect to the recommendation that Section 25 of the Constitution be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation. An ad-hoc committee was established to work on the constitutional amendment and they are likely to get the ball rolling on this pressing matter.

Another bill the sixth parliament inherited was the highly contentious Traditional Courts Bill. According to Notes from the House, the bill has “been in – and out of – the legislative pipeline since 2008 and it’s dragged on, has been renamed and amended,” and is likely to resurface again during the sixth parliament.

Words of warning from the unions

The Congress of South African Trade Union’s (Cosatu) parliamentary office said the sixth parliament must not “squander the second chance voters have given them”. Cosatu’s Matthew Parks took aim at the ANC:

“Cosatu hopes that the ANC will not reward those deeply compromised former ministers and MPs, who betrayed the hopes of the poor, with appointments as parliamentary committee chairpersons and other positions of trust.”

Parks added: “Whilst wishing the parliamentary leadership well, there will be no honeymoon. Parliament was found badly wanting during the explosion of state capture. MPs paid greater value to pleasing their leaders than to listening to the complaints of ordinary voters and the demands of workers”.

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