Farewell Speech by ANC Chief Whip Cde JM Mthembu in the National Assembly on the last sitting of Parliament
7 December 2016
Honourable Deputy President
Honourable Members of Parliament
Guests in the Gallery
South Africans have lost one of their most treasured and beloved sons, Sifiso Ncwane, a young, yet one of our gospel music legends. Our hearts bleed because of this untimely loss to our nation and people. To the Ncwane family, his loved ones and South Africans at large we say 'Duduzekani bakwethu, akuhlanga lungehli!'
In a special way I want to thank uMntwana wa-Kwaphindangene for the guidance he has consistently given to us as an elder in the House. Your words of wisdom Honourable Buthelezi have been most valuable to this House, for that we thank you, Shenge.
It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you on this the last sitting of Parliament in the calendar year 2016 AD to bid you farewell. Indeed it is true that parting is a sweet sorrow, on the one hand parting is sweet because of the memories of our company together that we forever shall cherish; on the other hand it is sorrowful because we shall at least for a little while not share the same spaces and in that regard we shall miss each other's company.
What a year 2016 has been, it has been a year of contrasts - it has been a year of progression and regression, a year of peaks and troughs, a year of fullness and hollowness, a year of reason and foolhardiness, a year of stability and anarchy, indeed a year of clarity and confusion; speaking for myself personally it has been a year of a mixture of fulfilment and sorrow. Oh what a year 2016 AD has been!
As I stand here before you in this august House, I am impelled by mixed emotions that have marked my responsibilities as the Chief Whip of the majority party since I took office this year. It is indeed a bitter-sweet moment for us that we were able to persuade Parliament not only to hold a debate in honour and commemoration of the passing of El Commandante Fidel Castro Ruz, but also persuaded Parliament to send a multiparty delegation to his Funeral Memorial in Santiago were it not for circumstances beyond our control, that delegation would have fulfilled its mandate. It is the first time in history that our Parliament has passed a condolence motion and resolved to send a delegation to attend a funeral of a world leader and icon outside the borders of South Africa.
Whilst we mourn the passing of this self-less anti-imperialist internationalist we are also humbled by the contribution we have made through Parliament in his honour. We did all of this and gave these accolades to this outstanding gallant leader of all the poor, marginalised and oppressed people throughout the world, informed by the immense contribution that President and El Commandante Fidel Castro made to the democracy and freedoms we enjoy today.
I also standing here before you reluctantly call to memory some of the painful moments of my time as Chief Whip. Yes it was painful to hold memorial services and attending funerals of fellow members of Parliament especially those from the ANC who passed on whom I served with in this Parliament. However what was excruciatingly painful and a low point in my life was to have to write a letter and speak to an ANC Member of Parliament to inform her that Parliament had formally terminated her membership as a consequence of her activities in the previous Local Government Elections. Equally painful was when some members of Parliament just decided not to be present in the House and as a result we failed twice to pass the Division of Revenue Amendment Bill (DORAB).
Ill-discipline from some ANC members caused the failures to pass DORAB which brought enormous embarrassment and disappointment to all of us as ANC MPs, including our organisation, and called to question our commitment to the mandate we carry from the electorate. We are in the process of disciplining those who caused us this harm.
Parliament as a multi-party forum of democratic debate depends on consensus and political management of the institution, inclusive of its programmes. We appreciate and continue to attempt to engender and enhance cooperation and collegiality amongst parties, this we believe is what our forebears like President Nelson Mandela and Mama Sisulu who are our trail bearers in the corridors of this institution expect of us in this conjuncture.
In our parliamentary toolkit to hold the executive accountable we continue to emphasise the progressive policies of the ANC and the implementation thereof by all in government departments, State Owned Enterprises or institutions supporting democracy. Reducing unemployment, poverty and curbing inequalities that persist despite 22 years of our democratic dispensation; and ensuring the realisation of the ideals of the Freedom Charter and attaining the objectives of the National Development Plan remain our benchmark in exercising oversight over the government.
After suffering from criticism after criticism from civil society specifically and the people of South Africa in general, on how non-transparent we were in appointing people to statutory institutions, we have listened and remedied our wrongdoings. We now emphasise utmost transparency and meaningful public participation throughout the stages of the appointment process as enshrined in the Constitution. We have also endeavoured to secure consensus by all political parties when recommending candidates for appointment and have since been able to recommend best candidates for appointment. In this regard all but one party agreed with the then candidate for the Public Protector position, the same is true regarding the candidate for the position of the Inspector General of Intelligence. This transparent approach to appointments by Parliament has been followed in relation to Commissioners for the South African Human Rights Commission as well as Public Service Commission. The almost unanimous support of the candidates alluded to above, beyond narrow party political lines, has engendered the notion of a people-centred activist parliament working in the interest of all our people and our country.
We also strengthened our collective exercise of oversight over the executive and statutory bodies, a case is the SABC. After the former Public Protector had made adverse findings and taken remedial action against certain employees of the SABC. The SABC board and the employees lost several appeals in court and were ordered by the courts to implement the Public Protectors' remedial action. Further to this it became clear that the manner in which certain decisions were taken by the board of the SABC including amendment of the editorial policy were prima facae unlawful.
The Portfolio Committee on Communications in response then invited the SABC board to respond to some critical questions questions, however the responses of the board did not satisfy the Committee; subsequently the Committee decided to institute an enquiry on the fitness of the board to hold office. It is because of the resolve of this National Assembly that today after several attempts to block the inquiry from commencing, the inquiry did begin and we believe that its findings and recommendations will go a long way to restore stability and confidence in this precious asset of our people. We are indeed demonstrating to our people that to us the interests of the people are paramount and that at all time we shall act without fear of the powerful, favour for the friendly and prejudice against the dubious.
We join millions of South Africans in condemning the contemptuous conduct of the SABC in staging a walk out from the ad hoc Committee meeting this morning whilst the enquiry was ongoing.
We have also strengthened the involvement of smaller parties in debate in a manner that does not diminish their visibility and participation in parliamentary processes. All parties are now able to meaningfully participate in making members' statements and giving notices of motion - a far cry from the past. Another area where we have worked together but also at times differed has been in the passing of legislation. In this regard we were able to pass the budget within the prescribed time in the beginning of the year. In the same vein despite some hurdles alluded to earlier we were able to pass the DORAB on the third attempt later in the year. The genesis of this state of affairs further raises a more fundamental question whether the obstructionist tactics of the opposition manifest in breaking the quorum by calling for a division and subsequently staying away from the Chamber en masse during voting time, is in the best interest of the people and our country, in light of the mandate we carry collectively in this regard as Members of Parliament.
Collectively as Members of Parliament we are expected to pass laws and to this effect our Rules make provision for those who hold a different view from the majority to duly register their objections. If the ANC were to employ similar
obstructionist tactics in Metros that are governed by opposition coalitions in processing items the ANC differs in principle with including in the passing of the budgets, would South Africans deem it acceptable and patriotic for service delivery to be obstructed in favour of party-political interest? My own view is that these tactics are undesirable and non-patriotic. However notwithstanding the ill-informed tactical walk-outs of the opposition we have been able to pass several pieces of legislation that came before our Parliament in the current year.
Another area of our work is holding the executive to account through amongst others, questions to Ministers held almost fortnightly on a rotational basis according to the four committee clusters of Parliament. All parties have found these opportunities being effective in extracting from ministers the extent to which they have implemented their own programmes as informed by ANC policy. Through these mechanisms we have been able to inform our people about our government in areas of the economy, peace and security, social transformation and governance.
Apart from Ministers' obligation to respond to questions, in the current year we have also continued to have the President of the Republic, President JG Zuma and our Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa responding to questions in the
House quarterly or monthly, respectively. The questions and responses sessions of both the President and the Deputy President have assisted all of us to be familiar with the direction our country is taking in relation to a number of aspects including but not limited to economic transformation and implementation of our international agreements.
Parliament needs to find a better way, within its existing Rules, to regulate engagements with the President when he comes to the House for questions, the State of the Nation Address and the Presidency Budget Vote. Some parties abuse the parliamentary system to the extent of degenerating the House, in most instances when the President is in the House. This is the challenge that the two Houses of Parliament and all parties need to attend to expeditiously if we are to be taken seriously by our people.
What has also been of critical importance in the work of Parliament has been engagements of MPs in their Constituency areas. The Constituency Offices of MPs create an environment in which MPs are able to be apprised and informed of the various difficulties, hardships and challenges that constrain our people on a daily basis. Some of the challenges faced by our people include crime, unemployment and lack of skills by citizenry to engage in productive employment. Of equal importance in areas that would confront MPs in their constituencies would be stubborn poverty levels and the persistent cry of communities in our country to be assisted out of the scourge of drugs and drug trafficking. It's these stubborn fault-lines in our communities that come from our apartheid past which need ventilation and expression in our Parliament. We need to continuously deep-stick the extent to which our democratic state and government addressed these fault-lines and what more still needs to be done.
It is my strong view that the programme of Parliament plenary sessions should over and above members' statements and notices of motion include plenary discussions on issues arising directly from constituency work. Such constituency-centric plenary debates would increase the relevance of our Parliament to the people of South Africa as our interaction with communities would then be a real and not an imagined part of our parliamentary activism. This is what we should be including in the programme of Parliament next year.
Whereas Parliament interacts with various structures in the continental as well as the international arena through the PGIR, the process of keeping the entire Parliament informed about strategic matters serving before and decided by all international platforms we are involved in leaves a lot to be desired. Parliament can do better and must endeavour to do better in the timeous consideration, debates and approval of matters that emanate from amongst others the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Pan African Parliament (PAP) and SADC-PF. In the same vein, matters of international treaties, conventions and protocols can also be handled better than the current practice.
All South Africans and patriots should decry and critique the levels of obstructionism, plain anarchy, grandstanding and playing to the gallery by some political parties in our Parliament. Notwithstanding the rowdy obstructionist anarchic conduct of some parties, Parliament has succeeded in effectively performing its tasks. To address anarchy and gross misconduct of some parties and members thereof, our Rules have been strengthened to empower the Presiding Officers to remove from the Chamber and precincts and even suspend members who wilfully disrupt the proceedings of the House and undermine the authority of Presiding Officers.
Rules are however not adequate to ensure decorum and smooth proceedings in the House. Those of us who are charged with the political management of Parliament need to work together to eliminate anarchy including disruptions that occur when the President is in the House.
As we end the year we appreciate the support we have had from our organisation the mighty glorious African National Congress and its leadership and membership. We also take the opportunity to express our appreciation for the support we have received from the Whips of the African National Congress Members in Parliament and all ANC Members of Parliament in the ANC Parliamentary Caucus. It would be remiss of us not to thank the support we received throughout the year from Chief Whips of other parties despite some disagreements at times which were necessary but cordial.
We further wish all South Africans a happy festive season and trust that we will all enjoy this precious time with our families and loved ones.
Farewell to you all comrades, compatriots and friends!
May you be safe throughout the festive season!
Till we meet again next year.