6 May 2009
It was a first on many counts for South Africa’s Parliament on Wednesday, particularly when it came to the appointment of the new Speaker of the House, African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Max Sisulu.
The House broke into ululations when Chief Justice Pius Langa made the announcement in the National Assembly in Cape Town. Sisulu was the only candidate nominated for the position, and Judge Langa had to call MPs to order twice as applause echoed around the National Assembly Chamber.
Sisulu’s father, liberation struggle legend Walter Sisulu, never made it to the corridors of Parliament. He spent a third of his life in prison because of his fight for democracy in South Africa. Now, Walter and Albertina Sisulu’s eldest son holds one of the most important positions in the House.
Sisulu was the ANC’s chief whip in South Africa’s first democratic Parliament. He left that position to join the private sector with state arms company Denel.
Sisulu becomes the first man to hold the position of Speaker of Parliament since South Africa became a democracy in 1994. The first Speaker was Frene Ginwala, who was succeeded by Baleka Mbete, followed by Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.
In his first address as Speaker, Sisulu paid tribute Ginwala, saying she had “worked tirelessly to lay the foundations for our new democracy”. He also paid tribute to Mbete and Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who both returned as ordinary Members of Parliament on Wednesday.
Sisulu joked that as the National Assembly had probably got used to having a woman in charge of proceedings, he would expect to be called “Madame Speaker” a few times.
“I will forgive you at least once if you call me ‘Madame Speaker'”, he said.
Sisulu promised South Africa that their elected representatives in Parliament would “put our shoulders to the wheel and work on the trust placed in us by the electorate.”
Former Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo was elected as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
South Africa’s Parliament is made up of two houses – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, which represents the country’s nine provinces to ensure that their interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government.
There are 400 Members of Parliament in the National Assembly and 90 members in the National Council of Provinces.