Jackson battles rogue MPs
CHALLENGED ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu
The fractures are indicative of deepening divisions in the ANC parliamentary caucus amid broader factions becoming more apparent in the party in the run-up to the national elective conference in December.
The tensions played out in this week’s caucus meeting where a group of MPs who had requested that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane include National Treasury, the SA Reserve Bank and the Financial Intelligence Centre in her state capture investigation defended their decision to approach the Public Protector without informing their bosses.
According to three sources who attended Thursday’s heated caucus meeting, Mthembu spoke out against the MPs who made the request, saying this was a sign of ill-discipline. He allegedly asked them to explain their actions to the caucus.
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The MPs, led by Loyiso Mpumlwana, stood their ground and said they had not violated ANC policy by going to the Public Protector.
They accused Mthembu of being guilty of the same for allegedly expressing his views as if they were the views of the caucus he leads.
According to two of the sources, Mpumlwana charged:
“Wena [You] Jackson, when you go out and say ‘it’s the tradition of the ANC for the deputy president to become the president’, who are you representing … which caucus took that position?”
Mthembu’s backers allegedly claimed that by presenting a view that was not sanctioned by the caucus, the other group was intentionally undermining the chief whip and trying to portray him as someone who was not able to manage the caucus.
They view the request for the Public Protector to investigate Treasury as a deflection in an attempt to minimise the impact of the Guptas’ alleged role in state capture.
According to sources, Mpumlwana explained that they were forced to approach the Public Protector following complaints from their constituencies.
He allegedly argued that MPs represent constituencies and therefore could not ignore issues that were raised at that level.
Mpumlwana expressed the same sentiments to City Press two weeks ago when he said: “MPs have a duty to respond to the issues of their constituencies. We can’t take everything to the caucus.”
Then, Mpumlwana had claimed that more than 90 MPs were signatories to the letter requesting the Public Protector to expand her state capture investigation and added that the list was growing every day.
Mthembu had, in a statement issued on June 1, distanced the ANC caucus from the group’s actions, saying the MPs acted in their individual capacities and not as representatives of the ANC parliamentary caucus and that whatever they submitted to the Public Protector was their own view.
He later indicated to City Press that the MPs would have to explain themselves to the party caucus and that the caucus would take a decision on the way forward.
But all three sources claimed that there was a stalemate and no way forward had been proposed or agreed to.
Mthembu refused to comment on the latest developments around the matter. He said caucus issues were not to be spoken of in the public domain.
“I will not deny nor confirm the issues that we discuss in caucus,” he said.
Mpumlwana was not available for comment. Several phone calls and an SMS went unanswered on Saturday.
At the same caucus meeting, Mthembu is said to have announced plans to discipline MPs whose absence from the National Assembly had led to its failure to pass certain laws.
In recent weeks, and following walkouts by opposition parties, Parliament has had to postpone the passing of proposed laws due to the lack of a quorum.
The Border Management Authority Bill, for instance, was only passed during a third attempt earlier this month as on two prior occasions there were not enough MPs in the House to meet the required 50% plus one quorum to pass a law.
Hours after Thursday’s meeting, Mthembu asked the National Assembly to postpone the approval of the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill because there were not enough MPs to pass the law.
He told City Press this was because a number of ministers had gone to Knysna with President Jacob Zuma following the devastating fires there last week.
Mthembu lashed out at opposition parties for their staged walkouts and said these were absurd and unpatriotic.
“They must tell us if Parliament’s majority is now centred around the 249 ANC MPs. They must say so, so that we change everything to centre around the ANC.
“If you are saying you won’t assist the ANC in passing its laws, say so and then tell us what example are we setting for provinces and hung municipalities where they are in charge,” he said.
A long-serving ANC MP compared the tensions in the party’s caucus to those of 2006 when then chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe claimed the caucus was fully behind Thabo Mbeki when the former president came under attack from the SA Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu for his alleged “imperial” presidency.
Goniwe was attacked by MPs who agreed with the ANC’s tripartite alliance partners.
The MP, who sympathises with Mthembu, said even if the other grouping was pursuing a matter raised by their constituencies, they should have gone through the chief whip.
“What they did affects everybody in caucus.”
Mthembu is regarded as a sympathiser of ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and has faced hostility from Zuma’s supporters.