‘The Minority will have their say but the Majority will have their way’ is a major fulcrum of parliamentary democracy.
It is currently playing out at Parliament House in South Africa where the committee reviewing the State Prosecutor’s report on the controversial R246 million security upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s private house at Nkandla is sitting.
All five opposition parties in the House – the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Congress of the People, the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance – have boycotted the sittings of the committee for the past one month but the African National Congress members still form a quorum and are sitting.
The cause of the impasse is the refusal of the ANC to either invite President Zuma or other witnesses to face the committee or to refund part of the R246 million state funds spent on his private residence as recommended by the State Prosecutor Ms Thuli Madonsela.
But the SA opposition does not give up easily. They insisted the committee of the Whole House vote on the issue.
The leader of the DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane introduced a motion including a call to allow Public Protector Madonsela to brief the committee and to uphold her directive that Zuma repay some of the R246 million spent on upgrades to Nkandla.
“President Zuma can’t run away from accountability,” he pleaded.
The EFF, IFP, CotP and FF Plus backed the motion. Like the DA, they said they would return to the committee if the motion was adopted.
But the majority ANC would have none of it. They voted it down by 180 to 99 votes, with one abstention.
The opposition motion was moved as an amendment to a motion tabled by the ANC to extend the lifespan of the committee, which was due to expire last Friday, until November 14.
The extension was adopted by the House, but the committee is likely to continue without the opposition parties as they made their return contingent on the revised mandate rejected by the ANC.
EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi termed the committee “an ANC affair” which might as well sit at the ruling party’s headquarters in Luthuli House in Johannesburg, rather than the legislature.
Addressing the chamber, he said Zuma had to answer a single question: “When will he pay back the money?”
FF Plus MP Corne Mulder said it was sad that the ANC had refused to call a single witness, never mind the president, and to get an independent legal opinion on Zuma’s stated insistence that Madonsela’s findings were not binding on him.
“This flies in the face of the Constitution”, the opposition argued, with Mulder warning: “South Africa and the rest of the world will take note that you are not prepared to do what the Constitution says.”
The ANC said the opposition’s motion was a frivolous attempt to force an argument that it had lost in the committee itself.
“It is not late for them to come back to the ad hoc committee and make a contribution instead of howling and entertaining us with their endless stunts from the outside,” ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani said in a statement.
The committee, which still has a quorum despite the opposition boycott, was expected to adopt a draft report earlier this month but parliamentary content advisers asked for more time to prepare it.
All indications are that the report will absolve Zuma from responsibility for the cost of a so-called security upgrade to his homestead in Nkandla escalating to R246m.
ANC MPs have argued that the president could not have known that the project spiraled out of control and said suggestions that he should reimburse the state were “absurd”.