Opposition parties no longer have moral high ground

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka. Many South Africans rely on the office of the public protector to defend them against a government that has fallen short in every promise to make our country a better place to live, says the writer.

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka. Many South Africans rely on the office of the public protector to defend them against a government that has fallen short in every promise to make our country a better place to live, says the writer.

Published Oct 24, 2023


Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

Opposition parties that did not participate in last Thursday’s special sitting of the National Assembly in the Cape Town City Hall, for a debate and vote on the nomination of the new public protector, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, are threatening to reduce our representative democracy to a prank on the public.

Disapprovingly, the DA, EFF, UDM, ATM, Cope and PAC members did not participate in the vote.

In the coming weeks, South Africa will endure senseless chatter on the process and effects of sanctioning parliamentarians who spewed unpalatable insults at Gcaleka, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and other members of Parliament.

Also, other senseless chatter will be about admonishing those absent from the opposition parties for failing to represent the people, as required by the Constitution.

Regrettably, insults and slander fired from Parliament have entered our fortresses. Throughout the days of unbearable stories of socio-economic hardship and now the abuse of the debate and the vote, the words have echoed in my mind.

Taken from the prism of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, they entered and stayed through my circumcised ears, wrapped with a comforting-sounding warning to speakers not to advocate for hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, which constitutes incitement to cause harm.

Where all is muddled and confused, it is natural to seek authority, decisiveness and crystal clarity of judgment from all parliamentarians. Yet, South Africans must accept that sometimes, it is wiser to learn to live with doubt uncomfortably and temporarily until the next elections. In the face of the hurling of insults and slander, we must refuse to normalise them.

How insensible of DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach to use the debate to settle her scores by tearing into the experience of Gcaleka, her former colleague at the National Prosecuting Authority, and cast doubt about her competence to take the position! How appropriate for the Speaker to eject her from the chamber for refusing to withdraw her insults and insinuations!

How misguided it was for DA leader John Steenhuisen to object by launching a stinging attack on Mapisa-Nqakula, calling her a liar, disgraceful and dishonest person who did not understand and follow the parliamentary rules!

EFF MP Mzwanele Manyi swiped at Gcaleka for accepting the acting public protector position when she had ambitions to ascend to the top position. Why? Here are divisive politicians seeking to give ammunition and hope to their little platoons of supporters before the 2024 elections.

Naturally, having followed the years of events surrounding Gcaleka’s tenure in that office, I can lash out at this circus as some politicians came to the debate with a final knife thrust in a protracted political assassination designed to find Gcaleka not fit for the position, regardless of the facts.

Voters are more likely to be repelled than amused by the clowns’ performance in the political circus. The concerned opposition parties are no longer occupiers of the moral high ground or altruistic players in the national debate, having allowed narrow political interests and personal vendetta to contaminate the appointment process of the public protector.

But other political parties and the public commenting in the media saw through the act, which is why South Africans must expose those peddling narrow political interests instead of honestly voicing their dissenting views. No wonder the GOOD Party MP Brett Herron said the DA statements that Gcaleka built her career on intimate relationships were disgraceful, sexist and racist. As Herron said, it will hurt the DA if it fails to apologise to advocate Gcaleka and unequivocally reject the insinuations.

South Africans must not absorb or align with the insults and slogans the debate threw up. We must affirm the suggestions that the insults only heightened the contempt voters held for the demagogic parliamentarians and their quest for independent candidates to win the elections next year and dilute the toxic influence of political parties in our democracy.

In any case, the attitude of the opposition parties – of aggressive, abrasive and vindictive public handling of the shortlisting and interview process – has shaped their approach to the debate.

Such an attitude is the exact opposite of what is needed to build an independent and impartial institution of the public protector and a democratic South Africa.

An increasing number of people rely on a functional public protector to defend them against an uncaring and incompetent government that has fallen short in every promise to make our country a better place to live.

But thanks to the ineptitude of Breytenbach and Steenhuisen, the negligence of Manyi, and the unwillingness of the UDM’s Bantu Holomisa, Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota, and the PAC’s Mzwanele Nyhontso to discharge their mandate as public representatives through meaningful political interventions, political circus risks becoming baked into the remaining days of this.

Now the headlong rush into securing, at all costs, another vote of no confidence against President Cyril Ramaphosa and perhaps also against Mapisa-Nqakula, as threatened by Steenhuisen last Thursday.

There is nothing wild about some opposition parties’ flamboyant rejection of Gcaleka, as it gives their many foghorns in the media ammunition to keep the Ramaphosa vote of no-confidence fires burning, saluting their heroes building the moonshot pact as the princes and princesses over the water.

The performance is an electioneering tactic. They persecute the public protector’s office, yet their enemy is Ramaphosa and the ANC, the incumbent in the Union Buildings, wrongfully enjoying Nelson Mandela’s gold wallpaper as a champion of the rainbow nation and caring society.

Breytenbach, Steenhuisen, Manyi and others did this. They are the political wizards who cast a spell over the voters with their outrageous manipulations and divisiveness.

Their cunning verbal wit – and even the seductive falsities they peddled – were part of their charm. This performance was their only talent, lethal to the public protector and Parliament.

Nyembezi is a researcher, policy analyst and human rights activist

Cape Times