Wed, 26 Feb 2020

It ended with a whimper, rather than the bang it has become known for over the past five years.

Around 17:45 on Wednesday the National Assembly rose for the last time during the fifth Parliament's term.

MPs from across political party lines strode to each other for a handshake or a hug, while others quietly made their way out of the House.

Not a single party leader was present in the House: No Cyril Ramaphosa, no Mmusi Maimane, no Julius Malema, no Mangosuthu Buthelezi, no Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, no Pieter Groenewald, no Mosiuoa Lekota. It seemed as if less than half of the 400 seats were filled.

Speaker Baleka Mbete was the first to deliver a farewell address.

Like those who followed, she commiserated with ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu whose daughter died on Tuesday evening. Mthembu, understandably, was absent.

She said Mthembu's daughter, Khwezi, was exactly the same age as our democracy, 25 years.

"It is very, very sad," Mbete said.

"As a parent myself who has a child that suffers in a particular way, I know the chief whip was a fellow traveller."

10 000 questions during term

Turning to the fifth Parliament, Mbete said: "We've had highs, we've also had lows."

This was more or less the slant of every speech, with the exception of the EFF, which in keeping with the pattern established in the fifth Parliament, danced to its own tune.

Mbete said Parliament's robustness grew.

"We've become more activistic and assertive," she said.

She said more than 10 000 questions were posed to the executive during the term, either verbally or in writing.

There was some cynical laughter from the DA benches when Mbete said political parties must maintain the highest standards of ethics.

"It was a privilege and honour to lead Parliament and serve our people," Mbete said.

The next speaker was ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley, who made her final speech after 20 years in the National Assembly. She holds the distinction of being the first MP to have a private member's bill passed, one of the things that happened during the fifth term.

Praise for Mbete

"Nothing I could say today will come close to conveying how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity I have had to serve the people of South Africa as a member of the National Assembly. It has been an honour and a privilege to work alongside every one of you, members, officials and staff - thank you," Dudley said.

She mentioned some of the people she met during her time in Parliament, and praised Mbete.

"Speaker Mbete - in my eyes a champion of parliamentary oversight at a time when oversight in the ANC was seriously... not popular. Also, unlike me, who competed in a 'man's world' by playing down who I was as a female, Speaker Mbete, by contrast, courageously embraced being a female in every detail, in her work. I was at first alarmed but curious enough to try it - nothing short of revolutionary.

"I could go on and on about so many amazing characters, like Joan Fubbs, Mike Waters, Kent Durr and, yes wait for it, even Jacob Zuma. But I will stop there and - write that book."

When she mentioned former president Zuma there were a few uncomfortable smiles in the ANC benches.

As she left the podium for the last time, she got a standing ovation from all parties except the EFF.

Following her, Cope MP Deidre Carter grew tearful during her speech. Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe hovered around the seats close to the podium with a handkerchief in hand.

'An absolute disgrace'

FF Plus MP Corne Mulder also expressed his sympathies to Mthembu, saying he also has a 25-year-old daughter. While commiserating, Mantashe said something inaudible in the press gallery, but Mulder took exception.

"You're not doing your party any favour," he said to Mantashe. He said he also made fun of Carter.

"It's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace."

Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu jumped to Mantashe's defence.

Mulder continued, asking that they make people proud of Parliament when they get back.

"Our parties are important, but people are more important."

He left quoting : "I'll be back."

He shook hands with EFF MP Phillip Mhlongo before taking his seat.

MPs urged to reflect on family time

Shortly thereafter, he approached Mantashe. The two shook hands and had what seemed like an amicable chat.

UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said: "There were instances when we have not covered ourselves in glory. We must ask the citizens for atonement."

Looking ahead to the election, NFP MP Moses Khubisa said: "Let there be no bloodshed in our country. Let us not burn down schools and administrative buildings of our country."

He concluded: "It was indeed the best of times, it was the worst of times. The struggle continues. A luta continua."

IFP MP Narend Singh, in reference to Mthembu's personal tragedy, called on members to reflect on how much time they spend with their families.

He said South Africa had witnessed its most robust and unparliamentary Parliament since the dawn of democracy.

As EFF MP Nazier Paulsen strode to the podium, EFF MP Primrose Sonti shrieked excitedly: "E! F! F!"

Paulsen broke with the trend of the speeches assessing Parliament over the past five years and sang the praises of his own party, describing it as the "dominant voice of this fifth Parliament".

Regrets about House violence

"Don't forget to say farewell," Mbete said after a while.

DA MPs waved at Paulsen and said "bye" with some ANC MPs joining in.

"Goodbye ANC! Goodbye EFF!" Paulsen concluded, his goodbye to the EFF causing some laughter in the DA benches.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said it was tumultuous, but also exciting five years.

He said his biggest regret was the violence that occurred in the House, where "fists rather that the force of our arguments" prevailed. He also said ministerial oversight was lacking and there was far too much focus on processing the business of the executive rather than the people's business.

He said it was a good thing that Parliament became a "crucible of national debate" and one of the highlights was closing the chapter of the Zuma era.

Even though Steenhuisen and Mbete often locked horns, he said it was "great fun" working with her and getting to know her.

"I look forward to going to Cuba again with you," he joked, in reference to a study tour the presiding officers and whips took to Cuba.

MPs on standby

ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said in the past five years the public had taken an interest in Parliament's work and rightfully held MPs accountable.

She mentioned that Parliament adopted rules for the removal of MPs, and that this was necessary to ensure that "Parliament maintains its dignity".

Before adjourning the fifth Parliament's National Assembly for the final time, Mbete reminded MPs that they were competent to function in this role until a day before the elections.

"Don't be surprised if I call you back urgently," she said.

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