Parliament revealed for the ‘farce’ it is
So the story goes like this: the Sunday Times reveals that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was convicted of theft in 1976 while managing a hospital in Botswana, and subsequently expelled from the country and declared a prohobited immigrant. Manto denies it and calls the allegations ‘false, speculative and bizarre‘. But apparently they weren’t anything but true, because the ANC then admits that they knew about her criminal record when they appointed her, and that the president was aware of it too. But it doesn’t matter, because according to South Africa’s constitution, criminals can serve as members of parliament so long as their conviction came with a sentence that was less than 12 months. Yes, you read that right.
Well, the DA certainly weren’t going to stand for it, and MP Mike Waters drafted a question to the minister regarding her history, to be posed to her at the parliamentary meeting on Wednesday of this week. The question asked whether Tshabalala-Msimang had been convicted of theft in 1976 while employed at the hospital in Botswana, and whether she had disclosed this information to President Thabo Mbeki when she was appointed to her portfolio. Manto’s spokesperson confirmed that she would reply to the question in the parliamentary session. The country held its collective breath, waiting to see what her response would be.
And then the Speaker of the House Baleka Mbete took the matter into her own hands, ruling the question out of order:
I have ruled the question by Mr Waters out of order because it transgresses the rules and practice of the National Assembly, particularly rule 63, which forbids the use of offensive or unbecoming language.
It is patently clear from the question that was submitted… that it reflected on the integrity of the minister, as it implies impropriety on her part.
Now, as you know it is an established principle of this House that allegations against another member can only be brought before the House by way of a substantive motion.
Such a motion should be properly motivated and substantiated. Members can not be allowed to reflect on the integrity of others in the form of questions, or other means, other than through the mechanisms that this House has imposed upon itself.
So I have ruled the question out of order and I am not going to allow a debate on the matter.
Her ruling rightly provoked an uproar from the opposition benches, and Waters demanded to know which words in particular in his question were ‘unbecoming’. The speaker tried to dismiss his question, but when he became insistent, she ordered him out of the house. Waters stormed from the room, with this as his parting shot:
This is a farce, an absolute farce… you’re covering up for a thief!
In a press statement issued later that day, he called parliament ‘a mouthpiece of the state’ and ‘a damp squid with no backbone to demand that our government conduct itself with integrity and honesty’.
I am constantly amazed at the lengths the ANC will go to protect a woman who has been nothing short of an embarrassment to this country for her entire term of office. I’m possibly more amazed at how they continue to get away with it, time and time again.
Update 07/09/07: Speaker of the House Baleka Mbete has now suspended Mike Waters from Parliament, in a move that saw a mass exodus of DA MPs following in his wake, to ‘defend democracy’. But Mbete may have played right into their hands, as she stated in her defense that the correct course of action if questioning Manto on the subject would be to move a substantive motion, not bring it up as a written question. DA Chief Whip Ian Davidson has now done precisely that, calling for the appointment of an ad hoc committee to investigate whether Manto is fit to hold public office. I’m wondering how Mbete is going to get around this one, after she opened the door herself?