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Chief whips rise to challenge of keeping MPs in tune with COVID-19 world

Much of the responsibility for ensuring that lawmakers rose to the occasion fell on the shoulders of the chief whips of the different political parties.

A National Assembly hybrid plenary sitting in line with COVID-19 regulations on 27 August 2020. Picture: @ParliamentofRSA/Twitter

CAPE TOWN - 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges – not least in Parliament.

Much of the responsibility for ensuring that lawmakers rose to the occasion fell on the shoulders of the chief whips of the different political parties.

They had to ensure that MPs learned how to use their laptops, cellphones and tablets to connect to meetings and sittings online – as well as come to terms with new rules and protocols governing how they should take part.

African National Congress (ANC) chief whip Pemmy Majodina said that perhaps the greatest challenge in Parliament in 2020 was COVID-19 and its impact on the work of the national legislature. A number of ANC MPs succumbed to the virus, others were hospitalised, while many have recovered.

But Majodina said the work of the ANC’s caucus continued unabated. She said while some MPs struggled with the new technology at first, there were also positive spin-offs: people worked more hours without worrying about traffic, meetings could start early in the morning and sometimes ran late into the night and Majodina said that attendance was very good throughout.

WATCH: The political spectacle that was 2020

Democratic Alliance (DA) chief whip Natasha Mazzone: "Chief whips really took up their role of being the voice of the party in the House – they became the voting mechanism for the parties. So, when a division was called or something had to be voted on, we would have to know how many of our members were on the online platform, how many were in the House and then the chief whip would then vote on behalf of the party.

"Of course, it's not an ideal situation, but you make the best of a bad situation."

Mazzone said the work of Parliament had to continue, virus or no virus.

"What we didn’t want to do was for Parliament to go into a complete shutdown and for ministers not to be held accountable."

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