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A whole new dynamic in SA Parliament sets the scene for intriguing session

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A whole new dynamic in SA Parliament sets the scene for intriguing session

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The welcome mats were rolled out for the swearing in of new Members of Parliament this week. The fourth Parliament looks somewhat different, with several newcomers on both sides of the House creating an interesting blend of experience and youth.
The Democratic Alliance is larger, the ANC slightly smaller, stalwarts like Patricia De Lille, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Bantu Holomisa have returned, albeit with less party backing.
Add to this the new entrant, COPE, and we could potentially have the most dynamic Parliament we have seen in years.
In the greatest of ironies, Jacob Zuma was sworn in as an MP, only of course to vacate the seat to take up the Presidential nomination. The President of the Republic is, according to the Constitution not an MP, though he is nominated from the ranks of MPs. One could not help but cast one's mind to June 2005 when Jacob Zuma was not in the House to face his fate.
It was then that former President Thabo Mbeki announced to a joint sitting of the House that the constitution enjoined him to fire Zuma as deputy president, given Judge Hilary Squires's finding that a ‘mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship' existed between Zuma and his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik.
How the tables have turned.
Much of the tenor of this Parliament will be set by Zuma himself. Zuma will have a new opportunity to foster less brittle relationships with opposition parties and to lead by example, ensuring for instance that his cabinet provides more than glib, defensive answers to the opposition during question time.
It is Zuma who will need to encourage MPs to shake the excessive deference for the executive that so marked the Mbeki years and consequently seeped through to the culture within Parliament.
For the opposition, the time has arrived to be creative and think intelligently about working together, across opposition party lines, where necessary.
It will, however, take a degree of maturity to sometimes set aside their differences for a larger cause. For the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, the challenge will surely also be for its leader in Parliament to similarly set a thoughtful, yet robust tone for the next five years.
If the ANC is serious about oversight, its MPs will have to leave the fawning behind and insist on greater accountability within its own ranks.
Post-Polokwane saw a welcome flurry of oversight activity by ANC MPs. The question has always been whether, in the face of a Zuma presidency, MPs might not simply revert to being deferential towards the executive as we have witnessed in the past.
That, as much as anything else, will be a sure indicator of whether the ANC is serious about holding the executive to account.
It will tell us whether the post Polokwane period represented a ‘Prague Spring' or was indeed symbolic of longer term and more meaningful commitment to transparency within the ruling party.
Meanwhile, here in the Western Cape, a new administration takes over the reins. Helen Zille as DA Premier does not inherit a dysfunctional provincial bureaucracy but she will need to act smartly if she is to spend her time focused on service delivery and not simply fighting with the ANC and Pretoria.
Zille certainly has the stomach for the fight. While she has outlined the challenges facing her office, it's the ANC's conduct as opposition which will be more interesting to observe.
Already there has been protest action in Khayelitsha and other areas even before Zille had taken office formally.
Has some of this action been orchestrated or is it spontaneous? The ANC has been quick off the mark in support of this protest action, unsurprisingly.
Of course delivery has been slow and there are areas of this province which are severely depressed and poverty-stricken but for the ANC specifically to lay this at Zille's door alone is frankly disingenuous, as Tony Weaver argued so well on these pages last week.
Protest action, across the country is a daily occurrence as citizens take the fight to government about poor services. So, this is not a problem unique to the Western Cape and the ANC must surely be aware of that.
Again what it serves to indicate is the complete lack of introspection by the provincial ANC. Simply put, it has failed again to read the electoral tea-leaves and lost the election, in part, because of its inability to run a focused, disciplined election campaign or to connect with the citizens in the province.
The game is up and so the ANC will need to learn the subtle art of constructive opposition in the provincial legislature.
Obstructionist politics will simply fail.
Zille has, for a variety of reasons, become the media's darling- each time the ANC attacks her, it is distracted from building its support base in the province.
If the ANC wants to stand even the faintest chance of taking the province in 2014, its time would be better spent rebuilding the party at grassroots level and trying to figure out why things went so horribly wrong for them in this province.
At the moment all they are doing is scoring own goals and providing Zille with free press coverage when she has barely had a chance to swap seats from City Hall to Wale Street.

By: Judith February, head of Idasa's Political Information & Monitoring Service. This article first appeared in the Cape Times, Thursday, 7th May 2009.

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