/ 21 February 2008

Farewell, floor-crossing — and good riddance

Though the country’s focus was firmly on Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and his national budget this week, another important event should not go unnoticed.

The venal evil that is floor-crossing has died an ignominious death, and South Africa is all the better for it. The writing has been on the wall for a while now. MP Vytjie Mentor, who chairs a parliamentary committee dealing with the matter, sounded like a master of understatement when she said last year: “We don’t think that floor-crossing strengthens democracy. We have not seen empirical proof that it strengthens democracy.”

Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Brigalia Bam is also on record as saying that floor-crossing is “unique and a little complicated”. It happens in a proportional representation system, where “you are in Parliament because your party put you in Parliament”.

“And that makes it a South African peculiarity: that in spite of the fact that you are not there as an individual, you have right to exercise your right, but in fact it’s your party that put you there,” she said.

Bam also expressed concern at the time over perceptions that an exchange of money and fraud featured in floor-crossing. “But this is a crisis for us, in our image. I can assure you, bribery makes us nervous, whether it’s true or not. Fraud makes us nervous,” she said. “We cannot afford [it]. We have to protect the image; not only the image of the electoral commission as an institution — we want to protect the image of this nation.”

The hero in all this is the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Koos van der Merwe, who first proposed the idea in 2006 and finally got the unanimous support of his fellow committee members on Wednesday.

“I am going to bed with a wonderful conscience. I feel like a cricketer who has scored a century,” he said this week.

Trevor Manuel
It’s impossible to please everyone when compiling the national budget, but from comment and analysis thus far, it seems the Finance Minister has once again managed to find a piece of the pie for just about every taker. Also, will we ever have another finance minister whose delivery of the budget is so entertaining?
Taxi drivers
Specifically, the group of taxi drivers that reportedly assaulted a woman at the Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg for wearing a miniskirt. They allegedly tore off her clothes and put their fingers in her private parts. It was a barbaric act and the taxi industry should unite to deliver the guilty parties to the law.

Most-read stories
February 14 to 20

1. Isidingo actress Ashley Callie dies
Award-winning South African actress Ashley Callie (32) died on Friday. “It is with sincere regret that the Callie family confirms that earlier today Ashley passed away as a result of the head injuries she sustained in a car accident,” her family said in a statement.

2. Nyanda: ‘We will vet Scorpions’
Scorpions investigators are to be screened before being incorporated into the South African Police Service. In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian, the former defence force chief and chairperson of the African National Congress’s subcommittee on peace and stability, Siphiwe Nyanda, said the Scorpions will be audited to get rid of the ‘bad apples” linked to apartheid’s dirty tricks or who work for ‘foreign services”.

3. Zille takes Scorpions battle to Zuma
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is to request a meeting with African National Congress president Jacob Zuma to discuss the future of the Scorpions, she said on Thursday.

4. Zuma takes legal battle to Mauritius
African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma was in Mauritius on Wednesday in connection with the corruption case he faces. Zuma’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, confirmed by telephone from the Indian Ocean island that his client was meeting with legal representatives about documents held in Mauritius that allegedly contain proof of bribes being solicited.

5. SA battles national identity crisis
A draft loyalty pledge has plunged South Africa into a new identity crisis as it mulls its common values 14 years after discarding apartheid to forge a united society under a single flag.

6. Manuel’s budget brings relief
Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s 2008/09 national budget tabled in Parliament on Wednesday brings tax relief, reduced corporate taxes, financial support for Eskom’s programme to build power stations, a new electricity levy, more social spending and a boost for job creation.

7. Zuma plans to wed again
Jacob Zuma, president of the African National Congress (ANC), husband to two wives, is planning to take a third, a media report said on Sunday. Zuma (65) married 33-year-old Nompumelelo Ntuli, the mother of two of his children, in early January.

8. Editors slam ANC’s Scorpions plan
“A disgrace”, “Answers needed” and “Crushing more than the Scorpions” was how some newspaper editorials reacted on Thursday to Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula’s announcement in Parliament that the Scorpions would be dissolved.

9. Mugabe faces serious election challenge
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is facing the most serious challenge to his 28-year rule as candidates, including his own former finance minister, register on Friday for a March 29 general election.

10. Mpshe shatters state’s Pikoli claim
An affidavit from acting prosecutions head Mokotedi Mpshe effectively blows apart government’s main charge against his suspended predecessor, Vusi Pikoli — that he had not kept his minister informed.

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