Various parliamentary committees return to work on 29 January for deliberations on the legislative programme. Some highly controversial pieces of legislation and a possible attempt to impeach president Jacob Zuma could see the South African parliament off to a rocky start with its 2013 programme next month.
On 14 February, President Zuma will officially open the 2013 session with his state of the nation address. Expect the usual pomp and ceremony with this year’s opening spiced up by Mr Zuma’s decisive triumph at the ruling African National Congress’ national conference in December.
State of the nation
Hints of what to expect in the state of the nation address can be found in speeches by Zuma and other high-ranking members of the ANC since the Mangaung conference.
The address is likely to deal largely with the National Development Plan (NDP), identified as a central focus of government’s programme for this year by Zuma. Drafted by Trevor Manuel’s national planning commission, with newly elected ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy chairman, it was endorsed by the ANC national conference in December.
The address is also likely to deal with policy directives and programmes evolving from the ANC’s policy and national conferences in 2012 and issues featuring in the annual 8 January national executive committee statement, made public on Saturday.
Apart from unemployment, job creation and government’s national infrastructure programme, plans dealing with key challenges that surfaced last year, most particularly in labour relations and with regard to the labour unrest on the mines and Western Cape fruit farms, might be announced.
Members of Parliament will be given the opportunity to debate the state of the nation address on 19 and 20 February, with Zuma responding on 21 February. The debate and the usual accompanying media briefings will shed more light on most of the key issues raised in the address.
A week later, on 27 February finance minister Pravin Gordhan takes centre stage to deliver his Budget Speech. Again, he will have to give financial flesh to many of the plans announced in the state of the nation address.
This year, his task of putting government’s money where its mouth is, will be a lot harder with South Africa becoming increasingly vulnerable to the fallout from global financial turmoil. A number of developments last year also impacted negatively on South Africa’s growth prospects. Top of the list has been the labour unrest on the mines.
Meanwhile, opposition MPs are likely to use every opportunity to grill Zuma and his ministers over the lingering controversies such as improvements to his private residence at Nkandla and the ongoing legal saga around the so-called spy tapes in the dropped corruption charges against him.
Opposition parties may also soon attempt to impeach President Zuma for not fulfilling all his constitutional obligations in the deployment of 400 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers to the troubled Central African Republic (CAR).
In terms of clause 201 of the constitution, the President must “inform Parliament, promptly and in appropriate detail,” about such a deployment. And, in terms of clause 201(4), if Parliament is not in session “during the first seven days after the defence force is employed ... the President must provide the information required in subsection (3) to the appropriate oversight committee.”
In this instance, the “appropriate oversight committee” is the standing committee on defence. We could not find any evidence that President Zuma did, indeed, inform the committee of the deployment of the 40 troops to the CAR.
According to constitutional law expert, Professor Pierre de Vos, Zuma may be in breach of the constitution for not having followed the prescribed procedures. That could easily provide opposition parties with grounds to call for his impeachment.
Among the more controversial bills that Parliament will have to finalise this year is the very contentious Protection of State Information Bill, which, over the past few years has gone from one cliff-hanger to the next.
The bill has galvanised unprecedented opposition from civil society, opposition parties and even the ANCs own labour ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). After approval last year, by the Houses of Parliament, some amendments were introduced in the National Council of Provinces and it now has to go back to the Assembly. However, chances remain strong that the bill will end up in the Constitutional Court.
Another controversial bill to be finalised is the Traditional Courts Bill. This bill has been slammed by women’s rights groups for infringing the rights of rural women and has even divided ministers in President Zuma’s cabinet.
Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, has been particularly critical calling on Justice Minister, Jeff Radebe, to withdraw the bill. But Radebe insists Parliament should decide whether changes should be made to the bill.
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill is another controversial piece of legislation. Minister Susan Shabangu has called for comments on the draft bill to be submitted by interested parties and stakeholders by 27 January after which it will be tabled in Parliament.
However, legal experts are concerned over some of the possible effects of the bill. Among others, they argue it will not be possible to trade in shares in listed companies which hold mining and prospecting rights without the minister's consent if the bill becomes law.
Another concern is that it will allow a third party to seek rights to associated mineral rights in respect of rights already held by another party.
With the mining industry already under considerable pressure and its image internationally tarnished, this will be a sensitive matter for Parliament.