Sisulu elected as first male Speaker in Parliament

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Parliament - It was a first on many counts for Parliament today, particularly with the appointment of the Speaker of the House, African National Congress (ANC) stalwart, Max Sisulu.

The House broke into ululations as fellow members of Parliament stood up to shake Mr Sisulu's hand in congratulations, after Chief Justice Pius Langa made the announcement at the National Assembly (NA).

Mr Sisulu was the only candidate nominated and Judge Langa had to call MPs to order twice in the House as smiles and applause echoed through the National Assembly Chamber.

He becomes the first man to hold the position since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.

Sisulu's father, 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. But today, Max, Walter and Albertina Sisulu's eldest son, took up one of the most prominent positions in the House.

The ANC had appointed the businessman as the first male Speaker of the National Assembly and his nomination was endorsed by the National Assembly - one of the first tasks of the new MPs.

Mr Sisulu was the second ANC chief whip in the first democratic Parliament. He left that position to join the private sector with state arms company Denel.

He takes over the reigns from Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. The first Speaker in 1994 was Frene Ginwala, who was succeeded by Baleka Mbete and then Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

The House rose in applause as Mr Sisulu took up his seat as Speaker. In his first address as Speaker of the NA, he paid tribute to first speaker in the house in 1994, Dr Ginwala.

"She worked tirelessly to lay the foundations for our new democracy and she created and enhanced the systems so that Parliament could take its rightful place in our country.

"Her initial work will resonate throughout the House. She has left us with a lasting legacy."

He also paid tribute to the two other women who served as Speakers after Ms Ginwala.

Mr Sisulu said that Ms Mbete and Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who both returned as members, did outstanding work as Speakers in entrenching democracy and uplifting the status of Parliament.

"The people of South Africa owe a great debt of gratitude to you. Their dedication to enhance the Third parliament and improve... the oversight mechanisms will leave a lasting legacy that will shape much of the life of the Fourth Parliament. Thanks for your perseverance and foresight," he said.

Mr Sisulu joked that as he was the first man, the NA had probably got used to saying Madame Speaker and he jokingly said 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 joked.

He said it was with great humility and a great sense of honour that he took the chair. "It is a great responsibility that you have entrusted me."

He said that he vowed to execute his duties in a manner that befits the trust with which he had been elected.

He said that even though many were tired after the elections he promised the electorate that "we will put aside our weariness and tackle the challenges ahead. We will put our shoulders to the wheel and work on the trust placed on us by the electorate."

Nomaindia Mfeketo, who became an MP in 2008, today became the Deputy Speaker.

In 2000, Ms Mfeketo became the fourth woman and the first black woman to be mayor of a city, as she served as Cape Town's mayor.

She was re-elected mayor following the floor-crossing period which gave her party, the African National Congress (ANC), the majority in the city council in 2002.

Ms Mfeketo held the post until 2006 and in 2007 she was elected to the ANC's National Executive Committee.

Prior to her election as Deputy Speaker, Ms Mfeketo served as a Public Affairs Executive at Golden Arrow in Cape Town.

Dressed in a cerise outfit, in addressing as Deputy Speaker for the first time, she accepted the nomination and thanked the ANC for having the confidence that she could do the job.

She promised that together with the Speaker to she would do her utmost best and not disappoint the expectation of the house. "I am looking forward to working with all parties in making their House what our voters expect us to be.

"My role is to assist the Speaker and use all my experience and knowledge to do that and I promise to do that," she said.