Christi van der Westhuizen
Christi van der Westhuizen

A parliament that doesn’t respect itself

Dr Mathole Motshekga, ANC chief whip, at the end of June wrote in ANC Today that, “parliament survives on the confidence and respect the public have in it, without (which) its dignity and integrity is eroded”.

The context was Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota sticking to his guns that President Jacob Zuma had violated his oath of office by not protecting City Press and artist Brett Murray against ANC party leaders’ “fascist-style measures and tactics” in “The Spear” saga.

Motshekga’s response was that MPs should adhere to the rules of parliament to preserve its “decorum and prestige” as “a supreme representative institution of the people”. In this case, Lekota should have brought a “formal motion backed up by evidence”. Lofty and admirable sentiments.

Curiously, however, while Motshekga’s concern about parliament’s “prestige” in relation to members of the executive is now known, he has remained mum about two unprecedented developments in the same period which both undermine parliament’s integrity.

The first was the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) select committee on justice and security’s move to defer the negotiating mandates that the provincial legislatures had agreed after provincial hearings on the Traditional Courts Bill (TCB). The second was the continuing interference of the ministry and department of state security in the drafting of the Protection of State Information Bill.

Regarding the TCB, provincial delegates were not allowed to present their mandates to the committee meeting scheduled specifically for that reason. Instead, it was suggested that provinces could continue with public consultations.

This was done by conflating the national, NCOP-level public consultation, a distinct process still to be conducted by the select committee, with the provincial consultations, thereby undermining the outcomes of the provincial consultation process.

This seems a case of “consult until you get the answers you want to hear”. Some traditional leaders are seemingly unhappy with the answers that rural people gave to the legislatures, which led four of the nine provinces to reject the bill, while another four want wide-ranging amendments. Justice minister Jeff Radebe has since told the SABC that consultations are gathering momentum.

This is after the effort rural citizens made to attend the public hearings, even in the face of intimidation, as happened at a hearing in KwaZulu-Natal where traditional leaders tried to silence the few women present.

Judging from traditional leaders’ responses in the media, some seem unhappy about facts emerging in the public debates on the bill. For example, the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) had the opportunity to make public its research on abuses of power that amount to blackmail.

The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (TLGFA) of 2003 empowers traditional leaders to administer government services. The RWM found, for example, irregular levies on access to government services such as housing.

Other arbitrary levies punish certain expressions of gender and sexuality by fining unmarried couples for living together, or fining unmarried mothers.

The TLGFA and TCB also re-entrench the boundaries drawn by the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act as demarcations of traditional councils and courts’ jurisdictions.

These facts fly in the face of traditionalist Phathekile Holomisa’s counterattack against opponents in which he calls traditional leadership “the one remaining truly African institution”. This would suggest an institution somehow removed from the processes of history, untouched by colonialism and apartheid. Sadly, history shows otherwise.

The public debates also expose the TCB as an attempt to shore up traditional leadership with authoritarian measures, suggesting the institution is not as roundly supported as certain leaders claim.

For example, the powers that the TCB concentrate in the hands of a “presiding officer” of the court do not exist in practice today, as traditional leaders are bound by decisions taken by the community or traditional council.

Hence the contention by the Alliance for Rural Democracy, a collection of civil-society organisations opposing the bill, that the current bill is not only unconstitutional but also violates customary law as practised.

Moving to the Protection of State Information Bill, unrelenting rebuttals by the ministry and department of state security has marred its progress through parliament, both in the meetings of the National Assembly committee and currently in the NCOP committee meetings.

In the last meeting, opposition MPs pointed out that the department kept questioning matters that all parties, including the ANC, had already reached consensus on. Among these is a limited concession by ANC MPs to allow for a public interest clause to protect disclosure of information that reveals criminal activity.

In response, both the department and chairperson Raseriti Tau (ANC) pre-empted aspersions on the process by paying lip service to the committee’s right to “make the final decision”. Still, the last meeting of the parliamentary term ended with MPs only able to agree to request an extension for its work in the face of a forceful ministry piling up “legal opinions” that serve its own narrow interests.

The usual, and procedurally acceptable, practice is for officials to draft as per MPs’ instructions. In this case, however, the department is obsessively blocking proper consideration of submissions by groups not driven by an agenda of secrecy and subterfuge. The committee’s response shows Lekota is not far off the mark with his observation of a “deepening asymmetry” in power between the executive and the legislative arms of government.

It seems the realisation is yet to dawn on the current crop of MPs that a legislature can only demand respect if it respects itself and its own processes.

This monthly column, which first appeared in Independent Group daily newspapers, is made available by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa to monitor the health of our democracy.

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    • Dave Harris

      Both the TCB and POISB are critical pieces of legislation that will turn back the tide of CENTURIES of colonialism and reassert African culture, a more humane system of law, and strengthen our democracy and independence. So its no surprise why the usual suspects hate these bills and are using every possible tactic, including abuse of our parliamentary processes and various NGO legal shenanigans to delay and/or gut these bills

    • Garg Unzola

      Democracy means nothing if the status quo (which is the ANC, not the masters of centuries of colonialism) merely pick up where the masters of colonialism left off.

      Remember that one of the features of er.. colonialism.. was that the press was censored. You may find this enlightening:

      The usual suspects are merely concerned citizens who enjoy our newly found civil freedoms, of which freedom of the press and freedom of expression are two. Furthermore, also concerned journalists who feel they can’t do a proper job while being muzzled to be sycophantic yes-men for the government.

      Since you frequently refer readers to the myopia of your own blog, I will refer you to my blog posts a while back on press freedom:

      Please realise one thing: If we do not have a free (as in absolutely free) press, all of our humane laws are in jeopardy, as well as our fledgling democracy.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Unfortunately the Homelands/Tribal lands throughout Southern Africa never developed either farming or manufacturing, because both the British and French left Tribal Structures in place.

      Which meant women could not work with livestock/cattle and men could not grow crops or harvest.

    • Bernpm

      @Garg: Another freedom under pressure is the freedom of “choice where to live in SA” if the new labour regulations are being approved and accepted.
      The new regulations follow the “Manyi plan” and aim to make it compulsary for governement and companies to emply labour according to the national demographics instead of allowing for provincial demographics.
      This will directly effect empoyment practices in the Cape Province, where the percentage of the coloured population is 53% as opposed to 9% on the national demographic scale.

      It could mean that companies in the W Cape wil have to re-arrange their staff composition from 53% coloured to 9% while upgrading their black component to the national democgraphics. This wil mean that 80% of the currently employed coloureds will have to be dismissed and replace by blacks, who are simply not available or do not speak the language, when imported.
      This is the same Manyi who told the nation that there are too many coloureds in the W Cape, who was removed from the labour department after trying to flog -in his official capacity- some private business to a foreign visitor and who was on the board of a food company, later penalised for price fixing in the bread industry.
      He still runs the Black Management Forum and sits somewhere in the Presidency.

      The consequences at personal level for the coloureds in the Cape are very similar to the old apartheid forced removal practices.

    • Dave Harris

      @Garg Unzola
      Let’s not speak in generalities about press freedom or democracy. OUR mainstream media operates as a mafia owned by a single corporate conglomerate – Rupert Murdoch style, endangering our democracy in the process. This is why self regulation is a pipe dream, media ethics almost non-existent and the loyalty of our corporate media is  first to the interests of their corporate masters instead of the majority.

    • James Shipmaster

      Dear Dave

      Your African system of law was not too humane to the petty thieves that were tried, convicted and executed by necklace in Khayelitsha township Cape Town, only last week. Or are you saying this was a fair trial?

    • Reducto

      Harris, I’ve pointed out to you an numerous occasions why the TCB is unconstitutional in numerous respects. Actually go and read what an expert on customary law like Sindiso Mnisi Weeks has to say:

      TCB reinforces apartheid boundaries. Women are not guaranteed participation. People are denied the constitutional right to legal representation. Etc etc etc.

      The TCB will not survive constitutional challenge. Plain and simple.

      And likely the secrecy bill will not either. Especially since it ties the hands of the courts by denying good faith whistle-blowers a necessary defence in the form of a public interest clause.

      Why don’t MPs take the advice of retired judges and refer it to Zuma so he can ask the Constitutional Court to test its validity? Hm? Surely if its proponents are so certain of its constitutional validity, this would not be a problem for them?

    • Lennon

      @ Dave: Murdoch curries favour with politicians around the world. Our media does not.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      It was not petty thieves that were necklaced in the townships from 1985 to 1999, but all blacks opposed to communism, including black civil servants – teachers, policeman etc.

      And those deaths were NOT investigated by the Mis-Named Truth and Reconciliation Commission!

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, this article is about the so called parliament in SA that’s a sham. The parliament in SA was not elected by the people in SA nor, did the people have an input in how the members were chosen. Many of the members of parliament are absent most of the time and show up for a paycheck. If members of parliament don’t vote the way the party tells them to vote, these members are usually kick out of parliament.

      Moreover, when the opposition parties try to speak they are told that what they said wasn’t proper and asked to apologize. if the opposition member doesn’t apologized, they are banned from parliament. However, one never hear of a member of parliament being banned for graft and corruption in SA. In Brazil the other day, a member of congress was kick out of congress because of corruption by his peers. So, why should the people fall over for a undemocratic parliament in SA.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Lennon, this article is about the parliament in SA that’s is deeply flawed and doesn’t represent the interest of the people of SA. How did members of the SACP be appointed to parliament when they didn’t field a candidate in the last election? I think this should be challenged in the courts in SA because this might not be legal.

    • phred

      So Lyndall, let me get this straight; the nats were righteous in formalising & entrenching apartheid, enslaving a large majority of the population (a verified crime against humanity), because they were the bullwark against the sinister red tide…?? You really need to up your meds my dear (and get your facts straight first). Also, please comment on the topic at hand and desist going on one of your interminable rambles. Take up macramé or some equally obsqure hobby if you find yourself with time on your hands…

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The Parliament is not elected BUT the local municipal councillors are elected by wards. The reason the municipalities are a mess is that the civil servants, including the municipal managers, are “deployed cadres” from the Centralised Communist ANC. So the elected councillors can neither hire or fire their civil servants.

      The SAME problem would result in Parliament even if it was directly elected.

      The REASON for proportional representation is to protect minorities – something that never concerns mono-cultures like the USA – or the UN.

      The ANC did NOT bring Democracy in 1994, but Communism – which is the opposite to Democracy.

    • Bernard K Hellberg

      When 21-million South Africans willingly submit to the autocratic “rule” of a chauvinist group of ‘traditional’ leaders, I despair at rthe submissiveness displayed by this group.

      Maybe, then, they deserve the abuse and the oppression.

      Remember, when injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes imperative.

    • Tofolux

      There seems to be a major problem with liberals or those who deem themselves to be the voice from outside political interests. Not only do they see themselves as anti govt but more pro civic participants. These voices do not have a mandate because they speak on their own opinion and have no one to account to, well most times if you are not employed by civil society because then you do have a conflict of interest. Parliament as we all know it is bound by certain processes and procedures. Not only are they bound to this, legislation holds them to it. If anyone ignores or abandons these procedures, it can be contested in court but in essence it means that you are breaking a procedural law. Secondly, some have not known this thing called consultation. In fact, consultation is a product of african practise. The very same practise of traditions, is the one of consultation. Hence we as africans in particular understand the reason and nature of consultation. Consulting has been with us for centuries and if there is no consulting we naturally frown upon these and we will challenge this in our communities. I think that it is very dangerous to accuse parliamentarians of behaviour and actions when you knw that there is redress legislated to protect ordinary south africans. I also think that it is very dangerous to attack our traditions and beliefs when you know so little about it. And this is the problem we have with these liberals, they always deem themselves to be our parents, why?

    • Lennon

      @ Sterling: As far as I know (and it makes no sense), they have dual membership. The only loophole that I can see is that the SACP isn’t on the ballot which somehow ma
      gically eliminates any conflict of interest.

    • Garg Unzola

      Which single conglomerate runs the news? Is it IOL, or News24, or is our Murdoch perhaps Trevor Ncube? Or could it be the SABC that controls radio, which is the medium that reaches the majority of our country?

      Yes they’re just creating more Bantustans and it’s probably a case of spreading ‘counter-revolutionary’ voters thin. This is an old ANC tactic, which is why the municipal borders keep shifting.

      Will they succeed? Well, last time people were bulldozed and shipped to their own living quarters, things didn’t turn out so well for the status quo.

      I’m glad that people are wisening up to what it really means to have human rights, and that it doesn’t involve mere access to services.

    • Reducto

      @Tofolux: You talk of consultation, but are you aware that one of the big problems of the Traditional Courts Bill in its current form is that only traditional leaders were consulted in its drafting, not rural people?

      Also, tradition cannot override constitutional rights such as gender equality. To not guarantee women participation is unconstitutional.

    • Tofolux

      @Reducto, one cannot just generalise. Our Parliament is a participatory (!), so to claim there is an overarching overriding of rights is irresponsible and incorrect. Bills do not get pushed through the side-door when no-one is watching. Secondly, this author states above that there was rural consultaton so how can you challenge this? Please be serious when you are contributing and instead of existing in a realm of complete misinformation (I could call it something else) please do yourself a favour to at least inform yosel.

    • Graham

      Thanks goodness the constitution was drafted by a government that protected the rights of all. The TCB and POISB would not stand a chance in Concourt.

      Even so, the ANC are quite slow in implementing policy changes. The ‘willing-buyer-willing-seller’ policy (initially brought in by the ANC) was effectively removed as a policy during Mbeki’s presidency. However, it was debated at Manguang whether it should be removed???

    • Reducto

      @Tofolux: Yes consultation, but only now. Previously it had only been Traditional Leaders:

      So the question is, how much will the Bill change? As the author mentioned, there is intimidation on the part of traditional leaders. People must not be silenced.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The willing buyer/willing seller has never been tried – because the state has never been buying, only pretending to be a buyer. There has never been money put into the budget to buy the land they said they were pretending to buy.

      What they have done is sold a vast amount of state, parastatal, municipal and regional land.

      As Patrick Craven said on the radio in conversation with me- they don’t want to buy what is on the market, they want to buy what is not on the market, because they don’t want white homelands.

      In other words this is about forced intergration, not about land.

      Which is totally hypocritical – since the Black Homelands still remain under tribal chiefs and pristine black!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Forced intergration – only of white and coloured areas – was why Black Xhosa were bussed into the Western Cape before the 1994 election

      Which is WHY the ANC lost that province to De Klerk, and later to Helen Zille.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, what’s the purpose of local councillors and what’s their functions? In Brazil democracy came to this country almost the same time and all of the cities, states have direct elections in that country. If there is a problem in Rio it’s the mayor of Rio that has to deal with this problem and not the president of Brazil. The same thing in the US and Canada all of these cities have elected local governments. In SA the officials in the government are aren’t accountable to the people they are supposed be serving and this is the problem.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The local councillors used to run the municipalities prior to 1994. Now they have no authority or power – all their civil servants are “deployed cadres” by the central authority of the ANC/SACP.

      Plus most of them in the rural areas are illiterate and can’t read or write – the Ventersdorp Municipality for instance has only one councillor who is literate.

      So almost all of them are now bankrupt, heavily in debt, and “under administration” of the Cental Authority of the ANC/SACP

      In Communsit theory there is only Worker/Capitalist, Exploited/Exploiter – no Middle Class.

    • Tofolux

      @Reducto, if there are incidences of intimidation, then surely these would be reported to the Police? If people are not initimidated to approach this author, then they shouldnt feel intimidated to proceed to the police station where they are able to have their identities protected. Secondly, we must get away from this wierd form that is gripping us and that is the art of speculation. Not only is speculation paraded as the truth, it is complete fiction. This weakens us and adds to our fears. I think it is wrong for someone to create fear. We must concentrate on the possibilities. I would venture to say that this Bill is a framework and it could be strengthened with alternatives during consultations. Not only can you do this, you have the Portfolio committees that can be approached, you have NCOP and various other fora. Hence if you are intimidated at home or in the village, make alternative arrangements to have your voice heard. This has been done in the past, I mean women travelled from all over SA to participate in a womens march in the then Pretoria under extreme circumstances. The point is we dont give up. Hence in whose interest is this argument?

    • Lennon

      @ Lyndall: “In Communsit theory there is only Worker/Capitalist, Exploited/Exploiter – no Middle Class.”

      Ironic considering Engels was a middle-class businessman.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The were ALL Middle Class theorisers and philosophers who created a theory without their own class in it!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      The whole Das Kapital theory relates to a factory type environment which no longer exists – production lines of workers doing boring work, or back breaking harvesting. That kind of work is all now mechanised.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      This mechanisation is one of the reasons for unemployment. The other is over population. Unemployment is worst in areas of the world either run by patriarchal societies, or which are Roman Catholic.

      Britain, Scandinavia and Holland, which are Protestant Christian countries, have much less unemployment than Italy, Portugal and Spain, which are Catholic.

    • Lennon

      @ Lyndall: You’d be surprised at just how many businesses are not entirely mechanised. The production lines at companies like Gigabyte and Foxconn (both PC board manufacturers) rely on people performing repetitive tasks, although I believe that Foxconn is looking at replacing a huge chunk of its staff with a mechanised assembly line. McDonald’s is another example – a human assembly line. Watching how their staff operate reminds me of Asimov’s short stories. Mind you, it is best captured in the movie “Human Traffic” which depicts all of the staff moving like robots.

      American slaughterhouses still employ people in this fashion. Each person has a set place on the line and is responsible for cutting a specific piece of the carcasses. They also get absolute minimum wage because it’s not considered a specialised job anymore.

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