The ANC Chief Whip: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

by The Editor

FEATURE: Why did the ANC react so extremely to criticism of its Chief Whip last week? Remember, this is the same party that ignored far more serious criticisms in the past. Something about the public airing of this latest problem – that the ANC Chief Whip has attended just 11 of 19 key parliamentary meetings – really upset the ANC. One explanation, which seems plausible on the evidence, is that his dire performance provides the perfect opportunity to “redeploy” someone the powers that be do not believe has the right political loyalties come Mangaung.

The ANC Chief Whip: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

By: Gareth van Onselen

13 September 2012

When last week DA Chief Whip Watty Watson criticised his counterpart in the National Assembly, ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga, for missing 11 out of 19 crucial parliamentary meetings, the ANC was particularly outraged.

A statement from the Office of the ANC Chief Whip said, among other things, that Watson was “spreading malicious lies”, that he was trying to score a “few mentions in the media”, that his statement constituted “shameless hogwash”, “plain silliness”, “juvenile antics”, an attempt to “advance his dirty tricks” and was indicative of “an unfortunate dearth of political maturity on his part and the party he leads”.

(You have got to give it to the ANC, when the mood takes it, it does not lack for hyperbole – pity it never gets that upset about unemployment).

On the facts, however, the response was sparse: the odd suggestion Watson’s claim was “improbable” before the inevitable “We really have no desire to engage in the immature politics of mindless lies and fabrications” – the last refuge of a scoundrel. Read: “We won’t provide any evidence contesting what you say, but we will slander your name and then dismiss the entire argument as not worthy of any real attention”.

Basically, the response of a guilty child.

But why such an extreme, panicky response? It seems excessive, even for the ANC. The DA seemed to have struck a nerve. The same party has ignored far more serious criticisms. The answer, you can be sure, is that the ANC Chief Whip is under substantial pressure. The reasons might not be fully know (as ever with the ANC, they are in all likelihood political, rather than performance-related) but that furious statement was obviously fuelled by even more furious insecurity.

In a party fundamentally divided every position is a nexus for factional interests. Who knows where Motshekga’s loyalties lie, but whether with Zuma or in opposition to him, they lie somewhere and, no doubt, the other side is waiting in the wings, quietly collecting enough ammunition to strike. So, best to mindlessly shout down any possible trouble, regardless of its veracity.

I say this because, historically, the ANC cares nothing for the actual status of the position: Chief Whip. It has, over the last 20 years, seen fit to appoint to the post a range of people fundamentally ethically compromised. From Tony Yengeni – convicted to four years in jail for fraud – through Mnyamezeli Booi – pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud – to Mbulelo Goniwe – found guilty of misconduct by the ANC itself – this is not a party that places any pride in the position.

As ever with the ANC, its reaction was political, not principled; and thus, aimed at the ANC caucus more than a possibly concerned public.

And I say “possibly” because, given the kind of scandal and maladministration that has come to define the position of ANC Chief Whip over the past ten years, the public would be forgiven for having written-off any expectation of actual performance a long time ago.

Motshekga’s spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, after accusing Watson of being a “liar”, then suggested Watson should apologise, “in the interest of a good working relationship”, a rather curious attitude to good relations. But, again, offered no facts in response. I pushed him on the issue in an exchange on Twitter to which, in what can only be described as a concession, he said of his Chief Whip’s attendance: “I don’t know how you do things in DA but in ANC we’ve deputy for a reason.”

The “reason”, presumably, is to do the Chief Whip’s job when he can’t be bothered to make the effort himself.

At the same time, Motshekga clearly doesn’t hold much sway in the ANC parliamentary caucus.

The description of the duties of Chief Whip on the ANC website states:

“The Chief Whip of the Majority Party is the most senior ANC Whip, upon whom rests the ultimate responsibility for the actions of all ANC MP’s. It is the task of the Chief Whip to ensure that all ANC MP’s perform their functions efficiently. The Chief Whip, is the most senior party Parliamentary Office Bearer.”

But he doesn’t even have enough influence over ANC ministers to ensure that answer questions or attend question time. So the ANC executive clearly doesn’t take him seriously. Certainly the DA doesn’t. Its first port of call in raising any concern is with the Speaker or the Deputy President (as Head of Government Business). The ANC Chief Whip is seen as an after thought by the official opposition – merely a powerless figure head. So he certainly holds no real sway in the House.

Francis Urquhart said the job of the Chief Whip was to “keep the troops in line” and “put a bit of stick about”. When it comes to the ANC, it’s more like “out of sight, out of mind”.

The same description referred to above goes on:

“In light of the Chief Whip’s responsibility to ensure that MP’s conduct themselves in a disciplined manner and perform their functions efficiently, the Chief Whip has the authority to take disciplinary action against ANC MP’s who do not act accordingly.”

But ANC MPs attendance in the House is so bad the party has even considered introducing a policy to fine errant MPs who fail to show their face in the National Assembly. How embarrassing. To have so little control or authority the mother body has to intervene to try and solve the problem.

It takes a real leader with some standing to manage the ANC caucus and given its dearth of leaders, it no surprise it has experienced this sort of problem before. Isaac Mogase was fired by the party just five months after taking office. According to sources in the ANC caucus he was too “soft” and too “junior” in the party to occupy the powerful position of Chief Whip.

But if its internal politics that define ANC decision-making, what of the Chief Whip’s lack of standing in the ANC caucus? One need only look at other poorly performing ANC senior members who are accommodated because they will vote the right way at Mangaung. The reasons is obvious: Motshekga’s loyalties are being questioned.

So Motshekga seems to be failing on all fronts then. Just look at the evidence: the attendance of Ministers, his own attendance, his failure to instil a culture of respect (even attendance) among ANC members for the National Assembly and its proceedings. Add to that uncertainty over his political loyaties (the concern at the heart of pretty much every decision the ANC makes at the moment) and you have all the ingredients for an inevitable “redeployment”, as the ANC puts it. Ostensible performance-related concerns that mask and can be used for political factionalism.

So it was no surprise when, just this afternoon, DA MP David Maynier (@DavidMaynier) tweeted:

So, has the ANC’s Chief Whip’ Mathole Motshega, been fired? There are plenty of rumours! Anybody?

To which Moloto Mothapo (@MolotoMothapo) quickly replied:

Isn’t it curious that this rumour seems to be circulating only amongst opposition caucus?

David’s response:

Actually, the rumours are doing the rounds in the ANC’s caucus!

Watch this space.

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