ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete has been appointed speaker of the National Assembly, ending speculation about the possibility of the ANC seeking to reintroduce a second deputy president position.
By sending Mbete back to the National Assembly, the ANC sent a signal that it wants a strong Parliament where the party’s majority would be firmly exerted. Outgoing speaker Max Sisulu was seen by the ANC as too lenient on opposition parties and reluctant to play what party leaders called a “gatekeeper” for the ANC and its leadership.
Mbete returns to the speaker position she held for four years between April 2004 and August 2008, before she acted as the country’s deputy president for seven months following the dismissal of former president Thabo Mbeki and the resignation of his then deputy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Speculation was rife in recent weeks about the role that Mbete would play in the new ANC administration. Following her nomination onto the ANC parliamentary list, ANC insiders claimed talks were under way to bring back the second deputy president position that South Africa’s government of national unity had.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe dismissed that speculation, saying the ANC never discussed such a plan. “It’s not in the Constitution. There’s no provision for a second deputy … as we sit here, the Constitution talks of a president and deputy president, full stop. That’s why there was no such discussion in the ANC,” he said.
Mantashe also revealed that former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni withdrew his name from the ANC’s parliamentary list, but Mantashe refused to say when or why the former labour minister lost interest in serving the ANC in Parliament.
“The question is a strange question on why X member [Mboweni] withdrew. I don’t think it will be ethical to call a press conference to read a letter Mboweni wrote to the ANC. It would be very unethical. Obviously Comrade Tito cannot withdraw from the list to go and stay at home.
“He is quite an active person and member … he has withdrawn from the list, he will be doing something different that he thinks will be in the best interest of the country and for himself,” said Mantashe.
As an ANC member with a wealth of experience from serving in the previous administrations, it was expected that Mboweni would be appointed in President Jacob Zuma’s new Cabinet, particularly in the economic cluster. Zuma is likely to announce his new Cabinet this Sunday.
Mantashe also announced that the ANC would be withdrawing another senior member from Parliament; a person who would replace Jackson Mthembu as the party’s national spokesperson and would be based at the party’s headquarters in Luthuli House. It’s not clear yet who that candidate is.
Mthembu accepted nomination to become an MP in the National Assembly. Mantashe wouldn’t be drawn into giving reasons why the ANC didn’t re-appoint Max Sisulu to the position of National Assembly speaker. Sisulu was regarded as a “firm and fair” speaker, with even opposition parties singing his praises at regular intervals over the past five years.
ANC head honchos
ANC insiders, however claimed that the party’s head honchos were not entirely happy with him and that he had alienated Zuma and other party leaders on several occasions. Recently, there were reports that the ANC did not take kindly to Sisulu establishing an ad-hoc committee to look into the public protector’s report on upgrades at Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, although Sisulu’s supporters insist this was done in consultation with the party leadership.
Mantashe dismissed this speculation on Tuesday, saying the ANC couldn’t be angry with the speaker if a requirement by the rules of Parliament is that he should take responsibility once a report was tabled in Parliament. The ANC would retain Stone Sizani as its chief whip and Doris Dlakude as his deputy.
The outgoing minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Lechesa Tsenoli, would be Mbete’s deputy. “All these leaders bring to their respective parliamentary positions huge political experience and institutional expertise, which we are confident will enrich the work of this institution,” said Mantashe. The ANC, which lost 15 MPs in this term – from 264 seats in the National Assembly to 249 – is also set to lose about R9.4-million in parliamentary allocation funds, which is given to political parties represented on the basis of the number of seats each party holds.
Mantashe said the biggest issue was that they have lost 15 more people who could do political leg work for the ANC. “That value is bigger than the R9-million you are talking about,” he said. “The worst thing that could happen to the ANC is when the ANC does its work on the basis of rands and cents. If we do that, we should go to business … We have an overwhelming majority and that will give us all the authority to govern with confidence. Many decisions require simple majority, anything beyond simple majority is a bonus except the amendment of the Constitution.”
Mantashe, however, said the party had no intention to amend the Constitution.