Editorial: Protecting Zuma is not Mbete’s job

Shortly after the elections last year, this newspaper questioned the rationale of electing the ruling party’s chairperson, Baleka Mbete, as speaker of the National Assembly. A crucial arm of the state, Parliament’s key role is to hold the executive to account. Our position was vindicated during the assembly’s session on Thursday, in which Mbete, again, conflated her party and legislative roles.

First, she showed that she still believes her primary duty is to defend President Jacob Zuma. She failed to distinguish between the functions of the president as head of state, his exercise of public power as head of the executive and the incumbent’s personal conduct. Mbete is technically Zuma’s boss when he is in Parliament. The president is to Parliament what a chief executive is to the board of directors. Section 55(2) of the Constitution states: “The National Assembly must provide for mechanisms to ensure that all executive organs of state in the national sphere of government are accountable to it; and to maintain oversight of the exercise of national executive authority, including the implementation of legislation; and any organ of state.”

Our democracy suffers when the speaker of the National Assembly becomes a cheerleader for a particular party or for one particular individual. Ironically for Mbete and the others defending Zuma, on Thursday the president appeared quite capable of defending himself against the opposition (even if he still avoided to account satisfactorily for the Nkandla situation). Yet Mbete chose to misunderstand the fact that all MPs enjoy equal status in the house by virtue of having been legitimately elected by the country’s voters. She warned opposition MPs that they were not equal to Zuma. After protests, she tried to qualify her injunction by implying that she had meant it in the context of age and cultural respect for one’s elders. This also ought to apply to leaders such as the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi, she said.

But public representatives derive their legitimacy from the electorate, not from age. Zuma was an ordinary MP until he vacated his seat after his election as president, which is done to ensure the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive – not to elevate him to a status above all others in Parliament.

How are we to fix the defect when the speaker becomes blatantly partisan and shirks her responsibilities to be even-handedly in control of parliamentary business? It is inevitable that if the speaker is also a senior figure in the ANC the pressure from others in the party means the speaker has to play party politics in Parliament. Perhaps assigning the speaker position to a party different from the president’s could be a solution to the problem of how to separate these powers. It does not seem fair to the majority party, which won the bulk of the votes, but some such mechanism is necessary if we are to strengthen the functioning of our democracy.


Ironically, when it convened concerned South Africans in Kliptown 60 years ago to talk about the kind of future they wanted, the ANC envisioned a Parliament of the people. The executive should not be elevated above it.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Watch it again: Ramaphosa details economic recovery plan

According to the Presidency, the plan aims to expedite, in a sustainable manner, the recovery of South Africa’s economy

Malawi’s new president is off to a good start

In 100 days of presidency, Lazarus Chakwera has been mostly well received despite a few glitches

How graft arrests came together

Learning from its failure to turn the Schabir Shaik conviction into one for Jacob Zuma, the state is now building an effective system for catching thieves. Khaya Koko, Sabelo Skiti and Paddy Harper take a look behind the scenes at how law enforcement agencies have started creating consequences for the corrupt

Citizens tired of being played for a fool

The use of a South African Air Force jet by ANC officials without the minister following the required procedures is one such case — and more questions arise on examination of that case

It’s vital to get the Copyright Amendment Bill right

The currently proposed hybrid ‘fair use’ principle does not do nearly enough to protect artists, and will bankrupt them if it forces them to litigate each instance of copyright infringement

Richard Calland: South Africa needs a Roosevelt style of leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to hold ‘fireside chats’ and have more power and institutional muscle around him, writes Richard Calland
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday