Dominance of One Party in South African Politics

1South Africa’s political landscape is defined as a multiparty parliamentary democracy, whereby the constitutional power is shared mutually between the Republic’s President and the Parliament. [2] Parliament seeks to implement legislation that among other things, intends to hold members of the executive accountable, collectively and individually. The executive pertaining to the President, who fulfils the role of both Head of State and Head of Government.

3It has been widely suggested that adequate depth and quality of democracy within South Africa has been severely impinged upon by the sustained dominance of one political party, namely the African National Congress, galvanized by a lack of a powerful opposing party. Furthermore, this perpetual one-party dominance and unwillingness of the (ANC) to rotate power infringes upon democracy and consolidation. Moreover, a lack of democratic consolidation seems to increase the likelihood that political culture may fail to promote accountability and responsiveness. (Matshiqi 2009: 1-2).

4One-party dominance within South Africa has blatantly affected democratic consolidation. The (ANC’s) political clout has impacted upon the South African Parliament in countless ways. Most significantly, the (ANC) is vehemently opposed to approving reforms to alter the current Proportional Representation electoral programme, as this system is directly how the (ANC) maintains its majority stronghold. In addition, this Proportional Representation system is blamed for the social disparities between Parliamentarians and the public. Parliamentary oversight has been weakened due to Parliamentarians pledging their loyalties to their party superiors as opposed to the electorate. The (ANC) superciliously asserts its majority domination to put forward out of favour legislation and makes vital parliamentary decisions despite protest from opposing parties. Parliament have been criticised for exercising ineffective oversight, its failure to confer with society regarding matters of national interest. Furthermore, MPs have endured much condemnation for failing to uphold proper etiquette. (Matshiqi 2009: 4-5)

5One of the most controversial decisions determined autocratically by the (ANC) was to prohibit Parliament from further probing the Arms Deal saga. In early 2009, an independent panel review was scheduled to reopen the Arms Deal debate. It urged Parliament to re-investigate the matter, encourage critical debate, whereby a resolution could be reached. Of course, the then President, Kgalema Motlanthe, repudiated requests for the matter to be investigated by an independent panel of enquiry. National Assembly Speaker, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, stated that the decision whether to re-investigate the Arms Deal would have to be decided by Members of Parliament, elected after the 2009 General Elections.

6The issue of the Arms Deal has attracted much attention, not only because it implicates President Jacob Zuma, but also because it defies the core objectives of Parliament and the Constitution it claims to uphold: “The Constitution sets a single, sovereign democratic state where governance is effected through Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary".(Parliament of the Republic of South Africa). The Constitution is regarded as the Supreme law of the land, which “lays the foundation for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law." (Ibid)

7Yet it seems quite evident that this clause within the Constitution appears to only refer to everyone except the (ANC) stalwarts. [8] With the sacking of the National Director of Public Prosecution, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, by then President Thabo Mbeki, caused a wave of unrest, as Pikoli’s dismissal came as a result of him refusing to obey an order instructed by the Justice Minister and Executive, to cease an inquest into the alleged corruption fiasco, whereby Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi found himself embroiled. The Executive has too much pressure over the Judiciary, and as according to Advocate Pikoli “…judiciary should be guarded against as it could ultimately lead to the erosion of the independence of the judiciary". (Parliamentary Monitoring Group,Advocate Vusi Pikoli's Submission). [9] With reference to this, Pikoli was vindicated by the Ginwala commission and his integrity was restored. However, it was the then-President Mothlanthe who ignored the verdict of the commission and maintained his decision to relieve Advocate Pikoli of his duties, sighting Pikoli was “…not sensitive enough to matters of national security." Furthermore, Pikoli stated “…Mothlanthe abused his position to protect the leader of his party from prosecution." (South African Institute of Race Relations “Arms Deal Saga Ensnares Another Top ANC Leader" 2008)

10With reference to the aforementioned, the Rule of Law within South Africa’s Constitution appears to conveniently apply to everyone else, excluding the (ANC) and its prominent members. President Jacob Zuma has been unsuccessfully implored to reassess his predecessors’ rejection to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into suspected corruption into the Government’s multibillion rand Arms Deal debacle. The vital request came as a result of Anti-arms campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne, who without triumph, attempted to persuade President Zuma to review former President Kgalema Mothlanthe’s refusal “…without good reason" to appoint a commission to investigate the arms deal after appeals by Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former state president FW de Klerk late last year." (Terreblanche 2009: 1) Crawford-Browne was denied the opportunity to probe into former Finance Minsiter, Trevor Manuel’s conduct, whereby he authorized loans which laid the groundwork for the deal in the first place, which were not authorized by Parliament. Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts, stated that it would “query" the financial implications related to the Arms Deal. It certainly looks to be a situation where Parliament and the Judiciary are deliberately stalling the investigative inquisition into the Arms Deal to protect the Executive and other notorious (ANC) officials from prosecution.

11Similar sentiments are echoed by Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, who fervidly believes that President Jacob Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority are intentionally “…obstructing the high court application seeking a review of the NPA's decision to drop the criminal charges against Zuma". (Zille 2009) Zille said that due to the (ANC’s) “won power legitimacy", its actions continue to subvert the ideals and legality of the South African constitution. Once more, The National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, revoked all criminal charges President Zuma faced, due to invalid evidence. Zille added that The National Director of Public Prosecutions “…was already an extension of the ANC, while the NPA was now in an "illogical" fashion disputing the DA's standing to bring the case". (Zille 2009) Moreover, the (ANC) has defied the ideals of the Constitution, as it is quite clear “Justice is not the same for the rich and the poor". (Zille 2009) This is destined to cause considerable damage to the validity of the Rule of Law within South Africa.

12Further afield, much attention has been attracted to the controversy sparked within the Parliament when (COPE) MP, Mululeki George, supposedly made a disparaging remark regarding President Jacob Zuma, whereby George said: “…our national leader is leading us down a path of lawlessness". Deputy-Speaker of the House, Nomaindia Mfeketo, demanded George withdraw his derogatory remark. George consequently refused and was ordered to leave the Chamber. George was within his Parliamentary privilege rights to express his views, provided his choice of language is deemed parliamentary. Mfeketo, who obviously made a subjective decision, based on Rule 66 of The National Assembly Rules to justify her decision. However, Rule 66 was irrelevant to the matter at hand and is only pertinent to “Protecting the dignity of judges and prohibits their competency from being commented on". [13] Furthermore, Mfeketo ignored Rule 72 of the National Assembly Rules, which states: “A member may speak (a) when called upon to do so by the presiding officer; or (b) to a point of order." (Milazi 2010: 1)

Hence, it has no bearing upon the Executive. As stated by Mr. Devenish, “South Africa has adopted a system of responsible or accountable government…as a result Parliament has an overseeing and scrutinizing role in relation to the Executive". (Devenish 2010: 12). Therefore, it is essential that the Executive and everything it does be subject to penetrating and robust criticism. (Ibid) According to Devenish, Mfeketo “Is giving exaggerated protection to the powerful Executive that is prone to abuse its powers". (Ibid). It appears a trend adopted by Speakers within Parliament to protect the President (past and present) and his transgression(s). [14] Democracy within Parliament should be more firmly established, whereby MPs and society alike must be afforded the entitlement to question dissolute behaviour and conduct exercised by high-ranking MPs, who feel they are above the law and the consequences thereof. Yet MPs tend to be more accountable to their party leaders and not the people. Tim Hughes adds that “Parliament's constitutional oversight powers are considerable, for it effectively to hold the executive branch accountable presupposes the electorate itself holds the legislature accountable."

15In order for the South African Parliament to govern and function objectively and without persuasion of the (ANC), Raymond Suttner speaks of a strong opposition or “agencies of constraint". The Democratic Alliance is the (ANC’s) official opposition and hence the (DA) should be allowed to critically question the (ANC’s) dominance, exerted over Parliamentary discussions and probes. Yet, although in theory this seems to “resolve" the issue of one-party dominance, in reality it is very much a different story. In particular, the (DA) was prohibited by Speaker Baleka Mbete, from questioning former President Thabo Mbeki regarding the contentious Arms Deal.

Suttner continues to add that the opposition party should have sufficient strength to expose a corrupt government (and their secrets) and therefore have the applicable power to prevent the dominant party and state from repeating similar abuses and injustices. (Suttner: 2009 5-6) Without adequate Parliamentary reforms, the absolute lack of regard for the rule of law and independence of democratic institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and Judiciary will be tarnished. (Ibid)

16Although the (ANC) exerts almost absolute domination, and approximately 75% of the National Assembly seats, eight of the nine provinces and occupies the majority of the Executive suites of many of the pivotal cities; democracy must be the ultimate vanquisher. Jonathan Faull, a Political Researcher at Idasa’s Political Information and Monitoring Service (PIMS), stated “For democracy to sustain itself, it must earn and maintain the trust of its citizens. In the context of a transition from anti-democratic and authoritarian government to democracy, this challenge is compounded by the need for new democratic structures to assert their accessibility, transparency and representative capacity in the face of citizens’ lived memories and experiences of institutional impunity, opacity, and illegitimacy". Society and opposing parties should insist that (ANC) and the Executive lead our country efficiently, recognising the importance of accountability within government, which upholds democratic ideals of government transparency. After all, the essential aspect of Parliamentary democracy, which must be preserved, is for the parliamentary opposition to fearlessly and unremittingly call upon the President and Executive to account in the way they govern the country. (Devenish 2010:1)