At last: Multi-partisanship at work

If you took the trouble to watch the televised #SABCInquiry by the parliamentary ad-hoc committee last week, you would have seen something wondrous happen: a collective of political parties that are usually at each others throats, working in complete accord, to get to the bottom of what is happening at the state broadcaster.

As witness after witness gave their damning evidence, fingering the entire SABC board, past chairpersons, Hlaudi “With a chance of meatballs” Motsoeneng, and most significantly, Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, they entirely avoided party politics, instead boring in relentlessly, demanding answers to embarrassing and compromising questions, and if anything, the ANC committee members were the most critical, unforgiving and indefatigable in pursuit of the truth.

Granted, Ms Muthambi did her level best to divide the committee along party lines, when she commenced her 45 minutes in the hot seat, because strategically it made sense.

If she could get the committee members to fight amongst themselves, it would shift focus away from the matter at hand – the complete capture of the SABC board by Mr Motsoeneng and Ms Muthambi – and the outcome would have been much like any such parliamentary committee: an ANC-serving result in which nobody is held accountable for anything.

Ms Muthambi’s attempts to shift blame simply fell flat. The committee was not buying that it was Parliament’s fault, or that the ANC leadership should take “collective responsibility.”

Instead, it pointed out to her, that she had effectively seized control of the SABC by amending the SABC’s Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI) in the manner which she did.

The committee was at pains to point out to her, that as shareholder, and having taken unto herself the executive authority which she did, “the buck stops with you, Ms Minister.”

There was more, of course, a lot more, including trotting out the same tired old argument from the Broadcasting Act in support of the decision to no longer air scenes of the destruction of property by protesters – that it is an offence to air visuals which could incite violence or war – but the substance of her arguments was quite simple: she is blameless.

But her guinea-fowl tactics – confusing an attacking predator with showy, ostentatious behaviour – failed miserably, perhaps best evidenced by the summation of ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, after the explosive testimony of past board member Rachel Kalidass: “I have a strong feeling that the minister misled us and misrepresented facts,” she said.

Never before, in the history of our democracy, has a multi-party parliamentary committee acted in such a multi-partisan fashion.

Never before has a sitting minister been shredded, eviscerated on national television, by members of their own party.

This is a watershed moment in our politics, and if, when it reconvenes to hear future testimony early next year, the committee can maintain its principled stand and continue to work together, we face the intriguing possibility, that in future votes in the house, MPs may well consider voting their conscience, rather than the party line.

And if that were to happen, a vote of no confidence in our fearless leader might suddenly stand a chance of being carried.

Of course, the elephant in the room, is the big question for these ANC MPs who have chosen to act in this fashion: why only now?

Either it is a sudden attack of conscience, or more likely, a realisation that as the Zuma ship settles ever deeper in the water, if they want their jobs as parliamentarians after 2019, they had better distance themselves from the man they have assiduously protected and supported thus far, because he won’t be around for that much longer.

We ought, I suppose, to be thankful for small mercies.