ANC members of Parliament could soon be central to heated debates taking place on social media. Two weeks ago, City Press reported that the ANC chief whip’s office was encouraging its MPs to be more present on social media.
ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo, who is also on Twitter, told the Mail & Guardian that there had been no official communication to MPs that they should be more active on social media.
Instead, he said the chief whip’s office had “encouraged” MPs, and particularly chairpersons of committees, to be generally more active in public, to lead debates.
The ANC’s parliamentary caucus has its own Twitter account, active since July 2013, @ANCMPs.
The account provides regular updates about happenings in Parliament.
On Monday, it went into full-political mode with a series of exchanges with the DA’s Phumzile Van Damme over what the ANC said was a racist tweet.
In 2014, Twitter was again at the centre of a row between the two parties. The ANC in Parliament went to the South African Human Rights Council (SAHRC) over a tweet by DA MP Mike Waters of a picture portraying voters who voted for the ANC as dogs queuing to urinate on a picture of President Jacob Zuma.
On Friday, the account took on a distinctly more informal tone. It produced a series of tweets about an alleged labour dispute at eNCA. Staff were allegedly upset over being discouraged from being part of a union. The @ANCMPs account somewhat obviously accused the television channel of having a pro-DA bias by using the hashtag, #enDA.
Earlier that day, Van Damme accused the account of “trolling” her. She was attacked by the account for tweeting a reference to the advanced age of the leaders of the ANC Youth League.
All the best to the #ANCYL as it goes to congress this weekend. (Even to abatata contesting leadershippositions)
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) September 4, 2015
Last week, the account joined the storm on social media over a video depicting racism at the University of Stellenbosch.
Nzimande:There are elements who are opposed to SU transformation who want to keep it as an exclusive white Afrikaaner University #Luister
— Caucus of ANC MPs (@ANCMPS) September 1, 2015
Statements by MPs are also often tweeted, like one issued on Monday congratulating government on its decision to implement a 10% tariff on steel imports to protect the local steel industry.
But Mothapo says the idea is to encourage individual engagement with the Twitterverse, as well as other national media platforms, be they printed newspapers or radio talk shows.
Mothapo says the work of Parliament is important, and needs to be communicated to the public by committee chairpersons, who are the “spokespersons” for their committees’ work.
“The ANC needs to take its rightful place in society, which means leading the debate. We can’t afford to have the absence of the public representatives of South Africans.”
He said the ANC was aware that some of the biggest debates take place on social media. Mothapo said that while it was important for MPs to be responsive to these debates, not all of them could become part of Parliament’s programme.
A number of ANC MPs are already active on Ttwitter. Mmamoloko Kubayi, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services, regularly retweets the South African Government Twitter account.
At the moment, the ANC does not have an official social media policy, like that of the DA.
Mothapo said he could not rule out the possibility that the issue could be elevated to a policy level within the party. But for now, he said MPs conduct on social media had to be governed by the ANC’s constitution, which regulates the conduct of its members.