Baleka Mbete's parly position brings the House down

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete. (Gallo)

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete. (Gallo)

The motion of no confidence in National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete was rejected by Parliament following a walkout by the opposition parties when the ANC sought to replace the motion with its own motion of confidence in Mbete. 

This was at the end of a heated debate where the House was split into two – those who supported and defended Mbete’s record and six opposition parties who wanted her removed. ANC chief whip Stone Sizani withdrew his proposed motion in support of Mbete, and instead called for a vote on the opposition parties’ motion to remove Mbete, but this was after the opposition MPs had left the chamber. 

This resulted in no votes in support of Mbete’s removal and 238 votes opposing the motion. The Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People, Freedom Front Plus and the African Christian Democratic Party all wanted Mbete to be removed as speaker. 

The Inkatha Freedom Party, National Freedom Party, AgangSA and African People’s Convention rejected the call to remove Mbete. While the African Independent Congress did not support the call to remove Mbete, it questioned the whole parliamentary set up saying it was controlled at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters. 

The Pan Africanist Congress was not present for the debate. The ANC brought everything it had in its attempt to defend Mbete: her struggle credentials, her experience in the position, poking holes in the opposition parties’ own policies, insults, and it bussed over 1 000 supporters from across the Cape peninsula who packed the public gallery while others sang anti-Julius Malema songs outside Parliament during the duration of the debate.  

‘Conflict of interest
Even the party’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe attended the three-hour debate and could be seen at times wagging a finger at opposition MPs.

Mantashe later denied to the Mail & Guardian that he was in Parliament to support Mbete. He suggested that the opposition parties propose a change to the Constitution if they want to see the removal of a speaker – but they will need a two-thirds majority to change the Constitution. 

“If you look at it properly, they must change the parliamentary based system into independent voting for the speaker. It’s a constitutional amendment, they must propose that and work for a two-third majority support for it,” he said. Mantashe said even if Mbete were to be changed, the party would deploy another party member and jokingly added: “In fact, it would work better if the secretary general [of the ANC] was the speaker”. 

The public gallery of the National Assembly accommodates just over 700 people and this was packed on Tuesday. Opening the debate, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, who tabled the motion of no confidence in Mbete on behalf of five opposition parties, called on MPs to support the motion saying that with the chairperson of the ANC as speaker, “we cannot have an effective Parliament”. 

Maimane said his motion was not personal but was about the office Mbete holds in the ANC and what it meant to hold the office of speaker. “She cannot serve as a leader of the ANC and a neutral speaker in the House. The conflict of interest is untenable.
Parliament can only work when the speaker puts country before party,” he said. 

Maimane accused Mbete of making sure President Jacob Zuma does not have to answer tough questions in Parliament, and in so doing, placing her party before the country. Maimane also listed Mbete’s hiring of former ANC MPs to offices in Parliament that are supposed to be independent, allowing the security cluster to militarise parliamentary security to intimidate opposition MPs, addressing ANC supporters from inside the precinct of parliament, which she did just before the debate started on Tuesday. ANC MPs, one after the other sought to protect Mbete and attack the opposition parties that were supporting the motion.

Male chauvinism
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who is also a member of the ANC’s national executive committee said the vote of no confidence in Mbete was steeped in male chauvinism.

Mokonyane said the ANC viewed the debate as “nothing else but an attempt by the opposition coalition to derail us from engaging in substantive matters on how to move South Africa forward and to bring about a better life for all”.

She said the ANC elected Mbete consciously aware that she was the chairperson of the ANC and “one amongst the many in this House whose track record speak volumes”. 

“ … Mbete is one of the women who participated in the crafting of the very Constitution, which we lay claim to,” said Mokonyane. “She has also presided over multi-party organisations that influenced the laying of the foundation for processes in the election of the speaker according to the  … Constitution and rules of the House,” said Mokonyane. “And all these shenanigans about the speaker of the Parliament are really a phantom to masquerade the essence and nature of opposition politics in our country and the belief that in the proverbial sport the game is won by not playing the ball, but the person,” she added. 

Mokonyane said the ANC was of a firm view that Mbete was fit and proper and had demonstrated an unwavering commitment to serve the people of South Africa. “She has continuously carried out her functions with fairness and impartiality as provided for in the house rules.

“It is in this very House that most of the intense debates take place on matters of national interest; yet it is also here that parties use their parliamentary privilege to upstage each other and whereby the members strive to promote the issues their political parties failed to influence through the elections,” said Mokonyane. 

‘Counter-revolutionary pseudo forces’
Another senior ANC member, Fikile Mbalula, dedicated his speech to insulting the opposition parties and their leaders. “The ANC rejects the Democratic Alliance’s boys’ club motion of no confidence with the contempt it deserves. The DA and its strange bedfellows who are gradually becoming its subjects must never be allowed to attempt running this country by hook or crook without a popular mandate. It is the ANC that has that popular mandate and not this counter revolution,” said Mbalula.  

He said the genesis of “this counter-revolutionary pseudo forces’ grievance” is not the implausible failure of the speaker to conduct the business of this August House objectively and with decorum,  but “the infantile disorder the charlatans are hell-bent to achieve with alacrity”.  

Mbalula argued that the motion of no confidence in Mbete showed the “patriarchal, sexist attitude, chauvinistic prejudices and superiority complex the colonial masters seek to re-impose on our society”. 

“What gives these bunch of losers and hypocrites the audacity to question the ANC deployment policy?” asked Mbalula before he was stopped by opposition MPs for using unparliamentary language. 

Mbalula infamously referred to the national soccer team as a “bunch of losers” after the team was booted out of a continental soccer tournament earlier this year. The EFF’s Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala said her party had long lost confidence in Mbete’s credibility to run the House impartially or objectively on any matter. 

She pointed out that the system of electing a political party member to preside over Parliament predated democracy adding that the progressive forces including the liberation movement – of which the ANC is a member lambasted the National Party for using the same method in oppressing and controlling he Progressive Party. 

“We stand here in 2014 to lambast the same system,” said Litchfield-Tshabalala. She said the conflict in Mbete could be read in her body language and her facial expression. “While her independent intellect tells her what is the objective thing to do, her heart subjectively tells her to toe the party line for that is what puts bread on the table”. 

Litchfield-Tshabalala said the EFF preferred a practice where retired judges could run Parliament as they knew the law, are impartial, and are used to sitting and listening to opposing opinions and making a decision. Mbete was elected by 260 MPs defeating the DA’s Nosimo Balindlela who garnered 88 votes during the first sitting of the fifth parliament on May 21.

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