Parliament SA: the top half of the iceberg..

 Editorial 30 October…..

Parliament SA shows up murky waters below…

Make no mistake, Parliament  is not “captured” as an institution.   Although its assembly halls, meeting rooms and corridors may be frequented by any number persons who walk in fear of those at the top who are indeed state captured, Parliament is still a retreat of normality.  It may not look it at times though.

Many of South Africa’s political problems stem from the electoral system it adopted. The party list system, which severs the link between a member of parliament and the electorate, is mainly at the root of the dichotomy between democratic and autocratic rule in South Africa currently being experienced.

Perhaps, as the Institute of Race Relations suggests, it is time this issue was re-visited.

Of the people

The fact that the representational system was probably impractical at the time with such a divided and injured society, with traditional governance elements still in place and a large rural population, such facts are known to have influenced the decision by the makers of the Constitution.

They concluded that the votes transferred to a list of those highest up to receive favour with a parliamentary seat was the best idea and it was decided that that the President would have sole power to select his cabinet from that list.

Still good

Records show that this subject was intensely debated at the time of drafting the Constitution but sadly most of the decisions were based on having a president of the moral standing of Nelson Mandela.

This sole mandate  now accounts for the almost medieval way that President Zuma chops and changes his Cabinet to suit his personal interests and not his own political party, let alone the electorate.  However, he cannot get around the parliamentary rules which still apply and which enforce the separation of powers between Parliament and a government led by his appointed Ministers.

Access to Parliament remains the right of every citizen. Those are the rules.


This is a good sign.  Black Rod still marches in (but without knocking on the doors, as far as we could establish above the noise)  and the Mace is laid before the Speaker, whomsoever it may be.   The Speakers powers are still final however well or badly the Speaker might perform those powers.  Watch John Bercow handling the UK Parliament.  Just as noisy at times and theatrical at that.


The factor of four hundred persons qualifying for employment in the National Assembly and ninety in the NCOP according to their status on the party list, breeds its own kind of fear sadly.   Loss of political favour at the moment is equated with loss of income.   The higher on the party list, the better the chance of paying the private school fees.

If MPs were to depend for their income more on their worthiness according to the citizens of the village, town or city where they come from, the fear exercised by the person at the top of the pile would indeed lessen.  To a lesser or greater degree, the proportional voting system is the choice of most countries but unfortunately in South Africa the chosen party list system has now been shown to be a crude political tool when manipulated by a person with the morals of President Jacob Zuma.   

Seven communications ministers in seven years is absurd. Four finance ministers in 15 months is a disaster.


With Parliament, it’s a case of what you see is what you get.  Like an iceberg, the nine tenths of what you can’t see on state capture is either happening at Cabinet level or at senior state SOE level where contact with the commercial world takes place.

The purpose of Parliament is mainly that of oversight on legislative and financial matters of the state, but it has no ability to detect crime and has no mandate to do so.  In fact, the most frustrating and quite useless meetings to attend in Parliament are parliamentary inquiries into malpractice.    Parliament cannot make a Joemat-Pettersson tell the truth, any more that it can take a Koko or a Zuma to task and apply a penalty.

Good TV

Unlike straightforward hearings on proposed legislation or debate on government policy and performance, which is the normal business of Parliament, all parliamentary inquiry and investigative meetings should be avoided at all cost considering that time is valuable and business interests are the purpose of one’s attendance.

Usually the inquiry goes nowhere, other than a promise at the end to supply answers in writing. Everything at such meetings mitigates against truth and justice and anything of commercial value is rarely achieved.  Probably people just watch Channel 408 in the hope that somebody squirms.


These new kinds of televised dramas from parliamentary meeting rooms unfortunately, and very often, result in a camera focusing in on an MP as a “prosecutor” who has no inquisitorial training or expert knowledge; members often ask leading questions which demand only “yes” or “no” answers; and there are brutal time constraints leading to unsatisfactory outcomes.  All this, with no witnesses and no evidence being led, other than sometimes a newspaper report.

Such meetings should be known for what they are. Just simply an opportunity to gain more knowledge as part of the parliamentary oversight process. Nothing more.

Inquiry only

Seasoned politicians can handle this kind of inquiry meeting any day, as can a politically appointed SOE board members or a subverted CEO.   Unfortunately, television stations are using them as court room drama viewing and this is muddying the water.  Nevertheless, they do demonstrate that democracy is still working and that the parliamentary process remains un-captured.

What has broken down is not Parliament but the prosecuting authority that is supposed to deal with those who lie to Parliament and those who will not attend Parliament when asked to do so.   It will come right, we are sure when the current governing party comes to its senses on matters that are well outside the ambit of Parliament.


State capture, corruption dominating parliamentary process – ParlyReportSA


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