ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and national executive committee member Jessie Duarte almost missed attending President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address in Parliament last Thursday after an official disappeared with their access tags.
Mantashe, Duarte and a few other senior ANC members eventually managed to get into the National Assembly, but only after much scrambling.
After flying from across South Africa to listen to the president live from the gallery, many ANC guests, including spouses of MPs and other senior ANC members, were not so lucky and had to follow the proceedings on television, like millions of their fellow South Africans.
The ruling party members claim that the ANC’s head of caucus, Livhuwani Matsila, who was allegedly in possession of their tickets, “vanished” with them on the day.
Five sources, three of whom are ANC MPs, told the Mail & Guardian how they were inconvenienced and embarrassed when they arrived in Parliament with their guests in tow and dressed to the nines, but could not get into the National Assembly’s public gallery.
Political parties and their MPs can invite guests to Parliament for the State of the Nation address and tickets are issued to each party for the guests.
All five sources claimed that Mantashe and Duarte were among the stranded guests. About 30 people were affected.
Sources claimed that Mantashe “threw a fit” in ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga’s office, calling for Matsila, who was nowhere to be found, to be dismissed. Motshekga, who was also not present at the time, only arrived later.
A senior ANC member, who was a guest and among the stranded, said that he only managed to get into the gallery shortly before Zuma began his speech. “I don’t know whose ticket I was given, but I was given a ticket five minutes before the president started speaking,” he said. “All we knew is that a staff member had disappeared with tickets.”
Two of the MPs accused Matsila of general inefficiency, but blamed Motshekga for protecting him. “This guy is protected by Motshekga. He rarely shows up at work and hence the caucus is a mess,” one said.
The matter was initially on the agenda of the ANC’s caucus meeting on Thursday, but was later removed.
Matsila denied responsibility. On Thursday he told the M&G that although people attended the event on invitation, there were many who simply pitched on the day. He admitted that although MPs got tickets for their spouses or guests, not every MP got a ticket for a spouse and said this had nothing to do with him.
Matsila denied dealing with MPs’ tickets and said he only dealt with those of the guests of the office of the chief whip. He also claimed that the bulk of the tickets received by the ANC went to Mantashe’s office in Luthuli House, so it was unlikely that Mantashe would have been without a ticket.
“The problem is that people invite themselves — they just come to Parliament expecting miracles.”
Asked about his absence on the day, Matsila responded that he had no appointment with anyone and there was no need for him to be present. He admitted, however, that there were MPs who called him looking for their tickets several hours before the speech.
On Wednesday night the spokesperson for the ANC caucus, Moloto Mothapo, denied any knowledge of the incident. “We have not received any formal or informal complaint about it. It might come up at the caucus, if there’s such a thing.” But Mantashe insisted that he experienced no problems. “I didn’t have an inkling of a problem, and I’m not a wife, husband or guest of an MP,” he said.