The Presidential Years

I was now the ANC candidate for speaker. I went to him a few days later and I said, ‘Now I have accepted your decision.’ So of course he laughed. I asked, ‘What is it you want me to do, how you want that parliament to be run?’ He replied laughing, ‘You know, I’ve never been a Member of Parliament so I don’t know.’ And he asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘One, we need to change that institution. It’s missing elements. It called itself Parliament but there’s never been democracy.’

He said, ‘Look, you asked me for guidance, I want you to manage Parliament the way we managed the negotiations. It has to be inclusive. We’ve already got the electoral system we need, but I want you to run Parliament the way we did with negotiations where everybody was allowed to come and have a say and they were allowed to speak freely. The biggest challenge is that our people are not used to being in Parliament, the public is not used to Parliament, so we must make sure that everybody, every political party, every South African thinks it is their parliament.’ I think I am more or less repeating his words. I’ve often wondered, did I get it right, he seemed to think so afterwards, he said.

I then went and thought about it, and later on he asked me and I told him what I had done. I spoke to Stofile. By now we had all been sworn in and ANC MPs had just gone overboard with the seating. We already had almost a two thirds majority, but they had gone overboard and taken all the seats and there was very little front bench space left. So I went to Stof and said, ‘Look, Stof, this is what Madiba has told me.’ So he asked, ‘What do you want us to do?’ I told him, ‘I don’t really know, but when I think about it, for the first time the public are going to watch parliament on TV. So it is very important that the other parties are visible. It doesn’t matter that we have got a two thirds majority. I see ANC MPs are already taking all the front bench seats except two or three and we need two to three more.’ He asked if I wanted him to move some members. I said, ‘It doesn’t matter who sits behind, but we need Constand Viljoen, we have a Government of National Unity, so the National Party and the IFP will be there, you need the Democratic Party in the front benches, so we need those seats.’ He asked, ‘How many more?’ And I said, ‘One more, we want PAC there also.’

So we did have Constand Viljoen sitting there. There were seven parties then. It was only the ACDP, a two member party, which was not in front. PAC had five seats and we had the PAC sitting there. Behind all of these people were ANC people. Stof never let me forget it, but I think he understood because I explained.

What was surprising in that period, and I think it probably still is to some extent, was how people were engaging with Parliament. Nomboniso Gaza once told me when she was in the Transkei, about three years into the first parliament, women were sitting there listening. It was after Trevor became Finance Minister. They were sitting there and they were engaging with the budget while he was delivering it, ‘No Trevor you can’t do that, this is what you must do’. When she told me this it made me realise that people were actually engaging, certainly in those first years. It was a novelty, seeing your leaders. But that involvement was there, we saw it, and when Madiba asked me, ‘To what extent are people involved?’ I said, ‘I am sure that when you are asked questions you will realise just how informed people are on what is going on.’

We did also showcase Parliament. That also depended on the ministers. Kader Asmal as minister of water affairs, had started treating water as a human right and when we had the first million homes connected he came to me and said, ‘I want to bring the women from that household to Parliament.’ I told him, ‘Bring them.’ And we acknowledged them from the chair. We did a lot of things like this.

Madiba always noticed, which showed that he was watching, or was being told and he would sometimes say, ‘You know this thing was very good’. So I realised he was keeping an eye on it.

Frene Ginwala