‘We don’t want Goniwe’

Mbulelo Goniwe will probably be reinstated as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), but he will not return to Parliament if ruling party MPs have anything to do with it.

Goniwe lost his job as chief whip, his seat in the National Assembly, and his membership of the ANC in December last year after a disciplinary committee chaired by Kader Asmal found him guilty of sexual harassment, abuse of power and bringing the party into disrepute.

He was also embarrassed by revelations that he had been dodging court proceedings aimed at getting him to pay maintenance for two children he had fathered out of wedlock, and by more than R70 000 in claims lodged against him by liquidators acting for Parliament in the Travelgate affair.

The disciplinary committee’s ­decision was overturned by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) last month, ostensibly on procedural grounds, and a new committee will hear the allegations afresh.

Independent News­papers reported this week that Goniwe is now ­taking legal action against Parliament. He is demanding that payment of his salary continue, and that Parliament’s efforts to recover payments made to him after his dismissal be stopped.

The secretary to Parliament, Zingile Dingani, who is effectively the chief executive at the legislature, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, are both cited as respondents in the motion.

Three senior MPs familiar with the circumstances surrounding Goniwe’s expulsion told the Mail & Guardian that there was no serious prospect that he would return to Parliament.

‘There’s a fairly large degree of consensus around his removal as chief whip. No one is raising that as a serious issue,” said one, ‘but there is an equally large consensus that his removal as a member [of the ANC] was really hard.”

Caucus chairperson Vytjie Mentor, who has been an outspoken supporter of the woman who lodged the complaint against Goniwe, said she had not changed her stance.

”The process could be rerun a thousand times, and I would never change my support for this young woman. There are policies [on sexual harassment] and I will uphold those policies even if I am the only one left on the side of this woman,” she told the M&G. ‘I fully support the decision of the NEC because any new process won’t produce a different outcome — that she was done an injustice — the difference might be in the sanction.”

Another high-profile MP said that the decision to review the original disciplinary committee’s ruling had been more political than procedural, but that there would be intense resistance to any proposed return by Goniwe, particularly from the women’s caucus. Goniwe’s real goal, this person suggested, was to return to the ANC fold, and then seek deployment elsewhere in the structures of the organisation.

The option of removing Goniwe from the national scene was already under consideration before the disciplinary process and scandal around him rendered it impossible. A move to the Eastern Cape provincial executive was mooted as a way to ease him out of a ­parliamentary caucus where he had become deeply unpopular. MPs were angry about his efforts to enforce loyalty to President Thabo Mbeki, his handling of the Travelgate affair, his perceived attitude to women, and his sometimes bruising personal style.

Whatever the outcome, ­neither the parliamentary ANC nor Luthuli House wants to be seen as taking responsibility for the ­procedures surrounding Goniwe’s original expulsion from the legislature.

ANC spokesperson Smuts ­Ngonyama said from China that the party’s political committee in Parliament had dealt with it, and would continue to do so, but MPs said the M&G should seek ­formal comment from Luthuli House and from the parliamentary management team.

Goniwe had sought to avoid a direct clash with the ANC by suing the legislature instead, MPs pointed out, but they all insisted that it was the party that dismissed him, not Parliament. ‘It is an error in his pleading,” said one. The situation is complicated, however, by the tangled lines of ANC and institutional authority created by the ‘deployment” of party officials at the ­legislature.

Mbete is a member of the political committee — which people familiar with its operations describe as ‘the national executive committee in Parliament”.

Dingani is a former provincial finance minister in the Free State who was put in the job by the party’s deployment committee. During his time in Parliament, Goniwe was seen as backing senior officials around Dingani in a battle with Mbete over precedence.

Parliamentary public affairs chief Luzuko Jacobs said Goniwe’s motion would be opposed in court on July 12 and the institution did not want to prejudice its case by ­commenting prematurely.

Goniwe could not be reached for comment.

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