Mthembu wants to take the 'soapie' out of Parliament
Jackson Mthembu is not fond of Parliament’s “soapie” status‚ and he knows it’s an impression that won’t be easy to change.
The African National Congress’ (ANC) former spokesperson on Tuesday was announced as the permanent replacement for Stone Sizani‚ who resigned as a member of Parliament and chief whip last month.
Mthembu acknowledged that there were serious challenges‚ but said that these were not insurmountable.
Sizani often drew the ire of opposition parties‚ but Mthembu appeared to want to co-operate with them to help the National Assembly regain its stature.
“All of us working together can make Parliament an institution that our people have confidence in‚ so that we are not another soapie‚ as we are called now‚” Mthembu said.
He said he was flattered by the new appointment: “More than anything else‚ I was honoured. Despite so many capable cadres of the movement who have probably stronger leadership qualities then myself‚ the ANC leadership chose me…”
“At times‚ I still look at the face in the mirror and say ‘Hey‚ Mthembu‚ is it true?’ But‚ of course‚ I respect the decision and I am honoured‚ and I promise my movement and the people of South Africa I will not disappoint them.”
Mthembu wasn’t the only person who felt the ANC had candidates with “stronger leadership qualities” who could do the job of keeping the ANC’s parliamentary caucus in check.
The Congress of the People’s Dennis Bloem said: “We are not impressed by the appointment of Jackson Mthembu to that position.
“There are more suitable people and credible people amongst the members of Parliament‚ but Jackson Mthembu is not one of them.”
Bloem also described Mthembu as a “praise-singer for the president”.
The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) chief whip in the National Assembly‚ John Steenhuisen‚ said it was a “very interesting appointment as…Mr Mthembu has had a rather chequered past in public life…but obviously we look forward to a robust exchange”.
Part of that past included a widely reported incident in 2010‚ when Mthembu gave a media interview apparently while in police custody after being arrested for drunken driving.
He spoke to the now-defunct South African Press Association about a criminal charge and South African Human Rights Commission complaint against then-ANC Youth League president Julius Malema for singing “Shoot the boers”.
At one point‚ it was reported at the time‚ Mthembu burst into a rendition of the song himself.
Steenhuisen said the DA’s first order of business would be to hold Mthembu to a tweet he made last week about the Gupta family.
“I believe Cde Jonas‚ @MyANC_ must deal with this arrogance of the #Guptas once and for all!!Who the hell do they think they are‚” Mthembu tweeted after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas confirmed reports that he had been offered the top ministerial post.
The party hoped Mthembu awould support the party’s call on for an ad hoc committee to investigate the influence of the well-connected family‚ Steenhuisen said.
Steenhuisen added: “You need somebody that is able to instil a great deal discipline. The ANC is really struggling to get their people to Parliament and to do the business that is required of a parliamentary majority and I am not sure he has the clout to do that.”
Mthembu‚ however‚ told TMG Digital that one of the issues he would be tackling was absenteeism by ANC MPs.
He said this had often prevented the passing of legislation and stymied Parliament in the performance of its duties.
“It is what we do when people don’t come‚ when they don’t do their work‚ the [ANC] must act‚” he said of action to be taken against absent members.
“From where I am sitting‚ the ANC has a disciplinary committee and those must be sent to the disciplinary committee for failing to perform their work…if we send people who don’t do the work they were sent to do then it is up to the organisation to remove them.”
Mthembu‚ however‚ stressed that this was not a reflection of ANC members of Parliament‚ saying that there were only few who were “messing” with the “good name and reputation” of the others.
Despite the misgivings of opposition parties‚ the ANC said it “is confident that Comrade Mthembu will discharge‚ with distinction‚ his responsibilities of overseeing the political and administrative functioning of the ANC caucus to support the ANC’s programmes and policies”.
The party’s Zizi Kodwa said Mthembu “brings vast experience to the position of chief whip”‚ saying he served as a MP since 1994‚ “before he was deployed back to Mpumalanga where he served as member of the Provincial Executive Council in the Provincial Government and later Chief Whip then Speaker in the Provincial Legislature”.
“The ANC wishes Comrade Jackson Mthembu well in his new role and calls on all MPs to provide him support in the execution of his duties‚” Kodwa added.