The DA’s parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko has announced a new “shadow cabinet”, which she says will “help restore Parliament to its rightful place at the centre of our democracy”.
The shadow cabinet conceit has been adopted by the Democratic Alliance from the Westminster system of government, in which two main parties dominate their national assemblies, with one of these typically winning elections by the slimmest of margins.
This is not the case in South Africa, where the ruling African National Congress commands a 65.9% majority in Parliament: 264 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, compared to the DA’s 67 (71 with informal partners the Independent Democrats [ID]).
This has led some analysts to dismiss the DA’s use of the model as pretentious, though other parties have hailed it is a constructive approach to opposition in the National Assembly.
Eyes on the ball
But Mazibuko is confident that the shadow cabinet model will improve the quality of debate within the National Assembly, and will encourage the ruling party to focus on issues, rather than internal politics.
In particular, Mazibuko told the Mail & Guardian that one of her goals this year would be to prevent the ANC from using Parliament as a battleground for the party’s leadership struggle, as was the case in the months before former president Thabo Mbeki lost the leadership of the party to Jacob Zuma in 2008.
“The government mustn’t take second place to political infighting in the ANC. We’re going to hold the line and remind the ANC that its first responsibility while in office is to deliver,” she said.
Mazibuko said that she would also concentrate on making Parliament more relevant by creating stronger links between MPs and their constituencies. “We want to bring local issues to the floor of Parliament and we’re putting together a plan to do that,” she said.
Her shadow cabinet is very similar to the one she inherited from the DA’s former parliamentary leader Athol Trollip. This is unsurprising, given that she has the same pool of MPs with which to work. Some deputies have been elevated to the post of “shadow minister” and MPs from the ID have also been included.
The DA and ID agreed to joined forces in August 2010 and Mazibuko said that although the parties have not merged they were already “one caucus”. “Our efforts to win more voters in 2014 will benefit from having the skills and expertise of our ID colleagues in the shadow cabinet,” she said.
In the economics cluster, Mazibuko has appointed Haniff Hoosen as spokesperson on economic development; Tim Harris on finance; Sej Motau on labour; with Natasha Michael covering the portfolios of public enterprises. Lance Greyling will handle matters relating to energy, and Trollip acting as the party’s spokesperson on rural development and land reform.
David Maynier and Dene Smuts retain the portfolios on which they’ve distinguished themselves — defence, and justice and constitutional development respectively — while Ian Ollis moves from labour to transport.
Mazibuko said she had used diversity as the starting point when selecting for the new roster, and had tried to create a “generational mix”, so that the DA’s positions in Parliament would be informed by a wide range of perspectives. “If there is one thing I have learned it is that the experience of veterans, mixed with the energy of youth, makes a formidable combination,” she said.
Out of the shadows
The party has in the past been criticised for its use of the shadow cabinet system. Ebrahim Fakir, manager in governance at Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said that the shadow cabinet system was endemic to Westminster systems of government, which is most well-known in the UK but also used in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
In these countries there are two major parties and a high degree of uncertainty over which will win each election. The official opposition forms a shadow cabinet and its MPs develop dedicated focus areas, produce in-depth policy proposals, and develop administrative and technical skills in Parliament. If there is a change of government the shadow ministers, who have been developing expertise in particular areas of government, become ministers.
Given this background, Judith February, a political analyst at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, said that in South Africa, the idea of a shadow cabinet was “a bit pretentious and over the top.”
“It’s pretentious when you know that the individuals will never be able to take those positions,” she said. “[The DA] is a small party pretending that it might one day get into office but given the numbers, that is unlikely.”
She said that while some DA MPs — such as David Maynier, who specialises in issues concerning defence — had distinguished themselves in their positions as “shadow ministers”, others did not have similar levels of expertise in their designated portfolios.
Moloto Mothapo, the ANC’s parliamentary spokesperson, said the shadow cabinet concept was an internal organisational arrangement and that it did not have a direct impact on the work of the ANC in Parliament.
“We’ve got a good working relationship with the opposition parties and a functional and effective multiparty chief whip forum [that] enjoys contributions from all political parties represented in Parliament,” he said.
But IFP chief whip Koos van Der Merwe said the DA system added value to Parliament. “They are studying their portfolios and making meaningful contributions to Parliament,” he said. “Some people may think it’s arrogant but there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing.”