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Features & Columns
by Eric Miyeni

Column

When is an opposition party the constitutional court of any country?

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I tuned into Radio-702, one of South Africa’s most popular talk-radio stations one night and found the lines virtually clogged full of people calling in, foaming at the mouth, aided by a presenter who agreed with them, to say that Ms. Baleka Mbethe was biased because she holds the position of National Chairperson of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) and should therefore step down from her position as Speaker of the National Assembly.

The background to all this anger is the controversy surrounding the “security upgrades” of Inkandla, a homestead for sitting South African President Zuma’s retirement. The costs for this are estimated to be R246 million by the South African Public Protector’s office to the horror of many South Africans. In light of this, highly agitated opposition parties such as Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Democratic Alliance (DA) had called President Zuma to the National Assembly to answer questions on the issue. When EFF Members of Parliament thought that their questions were not satisfactorily answered, they banged on tables, chanted “Pay back the money”, created a fracas and refused to leave the National Assembly as ordered by Speaker Mbethe until security personnel was called to remove them.

At the heart of this mini-National-Assembly EFF protest is Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendation that President Zuma pay back part of the money spent on these Inkandla “security upgrades” such as a swimming pool and other additions that her office deemed excessive and therefore not for the tax-payer’s pocket.

Now the issue had spilt into the public domain where ordinary citizens were airing their views on public platforms such as Radio-702, agreeing with the host that Speaker Mbethe was biased and should be removed. I called Radio-702 to find out, firstly, what Speaker Mbethe had done to show bias and was asked if I had been watching the same media that agitated everybody to which I answered yes and persisted on being told where the Speaker’s bias lay and was told it lay in that she had protected President Zuma in the National Assembly. On asking if the host knew what the president’s answer to the EFF question as to when he would pay back the money was, it emerged that he was not sure, so I told him that President Zuma had answered that the matter was still being investigated by other bodies, including an ad hoc committee in parliament set up for this purpose and that he would say what he would do at the end of all these processes currently underway to get finality on the matter. To this, the host responded by saying that the committee was set up by the ANC and therefore could not be trusted. When I asked if South Africans should stop trusting the judiciary too as the president (who is also the president of the ANC) appointed our judges it all seemed to fizzle out.

In the end what I told this host was that people need to decide if our constitution is a good thing or a bad thing because it can’t be good when it suits them, as when they see the property clause, which protects their right to keep the land no matter how they got it before the ANC came to power and bad when it does not suit them, as when the ANC appoints Ms. Mbethe to be Speaker of the National Assembly. I said to remove her, you would need to change the constitution, and if you do that, the ANC might want to remove the property clause.

My take, as I explained to this host, is that if an opposition party does not like what it hears in the National Assembly and has the guts to protest about it, it still does not make that party our constitutional court. Failing to adhere to our constitution as it stands is a violation of the highest law in our land. The ANC and President Zuma, whether you like it or not, whether you think they are lying and stealing or not, have yet to deviate from what the law requires with regards to the Inkandla saga, including the setting up of the ad-hoc committee that will now follow up on the Public Protector’s report.

President Zuma’s answer, I told the presenter, was correct, and once the question is answered, there remains no room for unruly behavior simply because one does not like what was said. Speaker Mbethe, by law, had every right to protect President Zuma after the question was answered. If EFF or DA or any opposition party feels aggrieved, then it should head to the next authority, and the next, all the way up to South Africa’s constitutional court. A flouting of a country’s legislation, becoming a law unto yourself and refusing to abide by existing rules because you don’t like them is as good as behaving like a dictator or wanting disorder in a place with no regulation at all.

And who wants to live in unmitigated chaos? I know I don’t.

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