Moments before the first sitting of the sixth Parliament, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte is sitting in the chief whip’s office doing some work.
Pemmy Majodina is asked if she thinks Duarte will mind Majodina herself using the room for an interview.
“Akazuminda iikwami apha,” Majodina jokingly says, marking her territory. (“She can’t mind, this is my office.”)
Asked if she preferred to sit on the couch or at the elegant wooden office desk, she responds: “Ngiright apha ngimude qithi for icouches.” (“I’m happy at the desk, I am impossibly tall for the couches.”)
In less than 45 minutes Majodina will be sworn in as a member of the National Assembly in the sixth Parliament.
Just two days ago the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) resolved that she would take up the top job of chief whip.
All in all, life is suddenly moving at a rapid pace, almost as fast as she speaks.
Majodina was as taken aback as most political analysts over her deployment when it was communicated in the NEC.
“Sis Nkosazana was sitting in front of me and I said: ‘What?’ Comrade Phumulo was next to me, and Sdumo, and they said: ‘You,’ and I said: ‘Me, what?’ ” she recounts, recalling the moment.
“I froze, I really did. And then I took a deep breath and said: ‘Ok girl, sebenza girl.’ ” (“You’re doing great, keep it up, girl.”)
Prior to her move to the national stage, Majodina was identifiable as the MEC with a penchant for sheer, loud-coloured fabrics and big, brim-feathered hats.
She grew up as an orphan, is a “ruralitarian” from Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, a preacher in the Methodist church – her favourite hymn is number 244 “Unabantu bakho thixo” – and mother to a young man named Mkhonto weSizwe, a name born out of a need to preserve history and also an ode to the “glorious army” she served in.
I joke that the job is already changing her, given that today she has opted for a simple, almost bland two-piece suit.
The only pop of colour is hot pinks lips and nails. A steel snake ring wraps itself around her left pinkie.
“You have to select your battles correctly. Today is just the swearing-in ceremony, there is still a state of the nation address. So you must have ‘amalevels so ngiqala ngale level’ (‘I am just starting off at this low level’).”
She does admit, though, that she will be forced to make some adjustments.
“I am a very hyper person and I like servicing the constituency out there. This one will tame me, I will be office-bound.”
In her first address to the media alongside ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, Majodina boldly proclaimed that the new parliamentary caucus would not be “lame ducks”.
The chief whip said she was making reference to the need for the ANC to revisit its understanding of its role of oversight in Parliament.
“As members of the ANC we must understand that we have a judiciary with a clear mandate, we have an executive with a clear mandate and a legislature with a clear mandate. If you can internalise that then you will know your role as the legislature.
“In the previous terms the ANC has been accused of asking darling questions and that we don’t hold the executive to account, and so on. The Constitution is very clear: there is a separation of powers. We as the legislature have a mandate to play an oversight role over the executive.”
The fifth Parliament was a tumultuous one, with it standing accused of failing in holding to account former president Jacob Zuma.
While emphasising the need for natural justice to be observed, Majodina is adamant that ANC members who serve in the executive and are found to be involved in wrongdoing will find no refuge in Parliament.
“If a matter comes to Parliament it must come. There is no one higher than the law. If we swear in a member today and tomorrow there is a damning report that finds the member guilty, we are not going to be defending an individual. We are here to preserve the values of the ANC. Whoever is found to be on the wrong side of the law must face the music.”
The chief whip will be making a comeback to Parliament, having served in the National Council of Provinces from 1999 to 2004 before making her way to the Eastern Cape government, where she was deployed in five different departments. She argues that this makes her no newcomer to the legislature.
“My vision is to make ANC members in Parliament accountable to their constituencies first. We are going to play an oversight role by ensuring that every item committed to in the manifesto is implemented.
“And if there is anything that cannot be done, it must be explained, because as we worked across the country, people were saying that when things change they are not informed.”