Mama Action and Daddy Cool will run the parliamentary show
Out of public view, Nomvula Mokonyane and Ace Magashule can cause serious problems for Cyril Ramaphosa
Nomvula Mokonyane is set for a comeback.
The position the environmental affairs minister will take up in parliament might seem innocuous, with very few people knowing what a “chair of chairs” does or even having heard of it before now.
But you can bet that Mama Action will use her new position to construct a new power base and exert her influence.
Mokonyane was endorsed for the position by the ANC national executive committee (NEC) on Monday despite having a cloud of damning corruption allegations over her head and an awful legacy in cabinet.
Because she was unlikely to make it back to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet, she was given a soft landing by the Don of Luthuli House, Ace Magashule.
As Ramaphosa is preparing to assemble his new government, Magashule and his allies are consolidating parliament as an alternate site of power.
The National Assembly will have many new faces and a reconfiguration based on the election results, and there is likely to be a change in strategy from all the main parties to adapt to the new dynamics.
While focus will be on the larger EFF contingent and how Julius Malema will use it to exert its influence, the ANC should also be closely watched.
The ANC caucus takes its direction from the secretary-general, and Magashule is certainly a man on a mission.
You have to give credit to Magashule.
Many people, including some of his comrades in the ANC NEC, assumed Magashule would be completely out of his depth when he was elected as chief administrator of the party at the Nasrec conference in December 2017.
Magashule has never been big on playing by the rules. As ANC chair in the Free State, the provincial executive committee was disbarred from participating in two consecutive ANC national conferences – 2012 and 2017.
As premier, Magashule presided over the regression of the province, with mismanagement of provincial departments and municipalities, wanton misspending and eye-watering levels of corruption.
But Magashule was an inspired choice for secretary-general by the ANC faction that coalesced around former president Jacob Zuma.
He quickly learnt the ropes on how to make effective use of the powers at his disposal.
Magashule’s predecessor, Gwede Mantashe, was imperious and bombastic as secretary-general, but allowed the ANC to be servile to Zuma even when the former president violated the constitution and surrendered the party’s electoral mandate to the Guptas. Mantashe only altered his approach when the sands were shifting and when he decided to back Ramaphosa’s bid for the presidency.
Magashule, however, pinned his colours to the mast from the get go. He believes Ramaphosa’s election was a setback and is using his position at the ANC headquarters to consolidate the fightback campaign. He operates behind the scenes and manoeuvres strategically when Ramaphosa and his allies are distracted.
Without Magashule, his faction would have unravelled and lost focus. But he gives them impetus and hope for a bounce back to reclaim power.
As the ultimate authority over the ANC election list process, Magashule was able to ensure that people who would ordinarily be banished to the periphery of society were high up on the list to guarantee their return to parliament.
Who would have thought that thoroughly discredited and compromised people like Mosebenzi Zwane and Faith Muthambi would be heading back to the National Assembly as MPs?
Both Zwane and Muthambi will have to appear before the Zondo commission to answer for their part in facilitating the capture of the state. But Magashule has pronounced that until someone has been found guilty of a crime in court, there is nothing that prohibits them from serving in any leadership position.
So while Ramaphosa looks set to bench ministers compromised by corruption and who were atrocious at their jobs, Magashule is able to ensure they still have employment at taxpayers’ expense. Until the criminal justice system is able to pounce, they will be able to pass the time as backbenchers, enjoying the considerable perks of MPs.
Mokonyane, however, is not about to fade into obscurity.
She used her previous positions at the ANC, including as head of elections and campaigns, to create her own fiefdom. Mokonyane controlled the allocation of resources to ANC structures and constituencies, and built a loyal donor network. There was no line separating her own household and the party positions she occupied.
So if you wanted to buy influence in the ANC, you had to look after Mama Action.
Judge Raymond Zondo is awaiting Mokonyane’s response to the litany of astounding allegations relating to the receipt of bribes made by former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi.
Mokonyane has not denied the allegations but refuses to withdraw from public positions. Her defence to her close comrades is that everyone in the ANC leadership has taken money and gifts from outside sources so she cannot take the fall for what is common practice in the party.
Her position would be defensible if she was at least half decent at her job.
But in her previous role as water affairs and sanitation minister, Mokonyane mismanaged and bankrupted the department, leaving behind an infestation of corruption and broken services.
In her new role as the National Assembly’s chairperson for committees, Mokonyane is destined to stir trouble.
This is an important position in the management of the business of parliament, but has been colourless under the previous incumbent, Cedric Frolick.
Mokonyane will be responsible for managing the oversight committees of the National Assembly, including their budgets, rules of engagement and the trips they undertake.
With a number of matters related to state capture and the mismanagement of departments to be scrutinised by the parliamentary committees, Mokonyane will have the ability to pull the strings from behind.
Even if Thandi Modise is a straight-shooting speaker of the National Assembly, Mokonyane and Magashule can cause serious problems for Ramaphosa through their control of the parliamentary committees and the ANC caucus.
A strong ANC chief whip would be necessary to counteract this, but the party has opted for a novice on the national scene, Pemmy Majodina. She will have to find her feet and ultimately take her cue from Magashule.
Parliament launched off Tuesday into the great unknown with new pilots in the cockpit. But out of public view, Mama Action and Daddy Cool are the flight controllers.
It’s best for everyone to keep their seatbelts fastened.
* It emerged on Wednesday morning that Mokonyane would not be sworn in as an MP as scheduled. Our sister publication TimesLIVE reported that Mokonyane declined the offer to take up a seat in the National Assembly just hours before chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was to preside over the swearing-in of MPs. - ed