When you see Ministers like Gigaba and former top brass of SOEs like Myeni boycotting parliamentary reviews, you realize how inverted our Democracy has become.
The Electorate does not command this country, one Party does. Even though there is no mention of “parties” in the Constitution. Basically the ANC has hijacked our Democracy and is running it like a liberation movement. Which it once was, thank God. But it can’t seem to shake off that identity.
The Slabbert Commission hit the nail on the head – the proportional representation or “PR” system is causing major distortions. Because our MPs are “deployed” by a party – they are not “sent up” from a geographical constituency to represent that place in the overall scheme of things.
We have seen the result. MPs vote according to party directives, who are constrained from voting according to their conscience. Effectively that means that the Electorate only, ever, votes on one issue – which party will rule. The Electorate has no other say. Unless it rises up like it has in the “citizen revolt” of the past two years and blows off enough steam to scare the hell out of the ruling party, in terms of how voters may express their discontent at the next election.
The loss of control of the major Metros was a harbinger of this. But the majority of MPs in Parliament vote as they are told to vote. That is not responsible, everyday Democracy. That is once-in-awhile Democracy.
The ANC keep saying that there are not two centres of power. There is only one – Luthuli House.
Where is that mentioned in the Constitution? Why are there Opposition parties in Parliament then?
Parliament has a legislative role and an oversight role. But when the Executive Branch gets too strong, as we saw it under Jacob Zuma, Parliament becomes only a rubber stamp.
What is worse is when the President has not only a Cabinet, but a Cabal. We find his family and friends exercising his authority by proxy – like bribing senior officials to take Ministerial posts. Where they will become but cronies. So the centre of power is removed one step further from the Constitution – because the Electorate did not choose the Guptas or their human shield Duduzane.
It is exhilarating at long last to see Parliamentary oversight kicking in. Parliament is growing its adult teeth. But they are crooked and they need some dentistry. Implementing the Slabbert Commission’s recommendations would be like putting some braces onto those new teeth – to get the bite right.
If the “vanguard party” (never mentioned in the Constitution) is going to decide everything, why have a National Assembly at all? In fact, why even hold elections? The whole idea was to have a huge Indaba where different representatives from different locations and genders and ages and perspectives could discuss policy.
Party platforms are useful for elections. Using those, a party gets as many seats in the Parliament as it can. But that does not mean that once a party gets more than 50 percent of the seats that it can take the whole Constitution hostage and bulldoze ahead with its own policies!
Take for example the issue of decriminalizing the sex trade. The liberation-movement-turned-ruling-party decided in mid-2017 at its Policy conference not to go down that road. This was in keeping with the SALRC decision of earlier in the same year, after it concluded a long review.
Then only six months later at its Elective conference – where it elected five men to the Top Six – it reversed that decision. Quite suddenly. But can anyone believe that a party that would reduce the number of women in the Top Six (from two to one) could at the same conference make a coherent decision about decriminalization? It is also the epitome of exploitation. To the point that the majority of Feminists world-wide do not support it. That agenda is only driven by a very vocal minority.
Why even bother consulting Parliament about it? The ruling party MPs are going to vote the way they are told to. Only the ilk of Pravin Gordhan, Derrick Hannecom, Makhosi Khoza and Blade Nzimande dare to speak out and vote as they themselves decide to. The rest of the MPs go with the flow. And then look how the ex-liberation-movement treats those who dare to vote with their constituency or their conscience. They are abused.
Look, the idea behind Parliament is for ALL policies to be vetted there. In terms of decision-making, the ANC has a strangle-hold on process. This is not the spirit of the Constitution. It is Vanguardism.
That’s why you get MPs who insult parliamentary committees. But they only get scolded by the Opposition and by the media and by voices from civil society. Their own colleagues within their own party keep up the pretense of “unity” which we all know is but code-language for “gridlock”. There are vying factions within that party. And the point of having a Parliament is to create the conditions so that there can be diverse combinations and permutations of voting. The EFF may line up with some MPs from the ANC, while others might line up with the DA. The ANC has always prided itself in being a “broad church” organization, but then it keeps the member-MPs chained to the pews!
The centre of power needs to move to the Constitutional structures. Not the constitution of the ANC, which brings you the NEC and NWC. But the Constitution of South Africa, which brings you Parliament, Caucus, Executive Branch and Cabinet. Not to mention the Judiciary and the Section 9 institutions. Will the day come when they too are duplicated? Parties have disciplinary procedures, like the one used to eject Julius Malema and Makhosi Khoza. But those are “internal”. So why not internalize Luthuli House as well? Unleash the Constitution. The ruling party keeps it in chains for one and only one reason – to stay in power. Hopefully in 2019 we will not just get another ruling alliance, but also another way of ruling.
Lekota asked a very pertinent question in Parliament recently: “Who is our people? Who is not our people?” This is what I am writing about. The ANC has ruled as if Democracy is exclusive, not as if it is inclusive. Winning the elections does not mean that you only rule and benefit those who voted for the ANC. Yet we know of politicians who literally checked for ANC membership before dispensing benefits to people. That has been the whole ethos of the “vindictive triumphalists” who emerged after the Polokwane conference as the dominant faction within the ANC. That is un-democratic.
The ANC needs to get its house in order in terms of waste, graft and arrogance. To do this, it needs to re-jig its way of governing. Or the “Ramaphoria” will wear off soon enough, and a red-blue coalition government will replace it in 2019.
Chuck Stephens is the Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and writes in his personal capacity