As per the Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, Tuesday’s no confidence motion regarding President Jacob Zuma will be conducted by secret ballot. A momentous occasion in South Africa’s young democracy, this gives ANC parliamentarians a chance to vote according to whim. Four hundred members of parliament, 249* of them members of the ANC, each one of them protected by a cloak of invisibility. All that is required to unseat Zuma is a simple majority. But there is no such thing as 'simple' in politics. By RICHARD POPLAK.
“Esse quam videri,” implored Cicero, the Roman poet, orator, and politician.
“Be rather than seem.”
The quote is traditionally interpreted as Cicero’s ode to
It is nonetheless an interesting aphorism to ponder as 249* African National Congress parliamentarians are transformed into ghosts—their materiality disappeared by the sweepingly momentous injunction engineered by Baleka Mbete in her role as Speaker of the House:
Secret ballot. Your vote belongs to your conscience.
Every member of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus, now
As I write these words, infinitesimal particles of information, borne on invisible but detectable waves, are pinging around South Africa, demanding answers to these self-same questions. The party’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, has been emphatic on this score: ANC MPs are not individual actors, but part of a hive, answerable to a hive-mind, which acts in accordance
“[The] electoral system is not a Presidential system where a President is voted for as an individual but rather the party that wins elections deploys its presidential candidate. In the same
In other words, bore someone else with news of your conscience—the will of the governing party is ipso facto the will of the people. Vote against Zuma, vote for the destruction of the ANC. The party cannot survive another bout of regicide.
The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, along with a full bench, interpreted things slightly differently. Mogoeng Mogoeng’s ruling on whether or not the Speaker of the House had the power to decide on a secret ballot, which impelled Mbete to create this new architecture of secrecy, contained a universe of subtleties, but was equally emphatic regarding who was responsible to whom:
“Public office […] comes with a lot of power. That power comes with responsibilities. The powers and resources [of the state] do not belong to the public office-bearers who occupy positions of high authority therein. They are therefore not to be used for the advancement of personal or sectarian interests. Amandla
So which is it: accountability to the people vs accountability to the party? South Africa’s eternal dilemma in this, the Age of the ANC.
So as an invested observer, as a citizen, I reject the idea that this is an easy call. History sits in the middle of this, like a fat, mute Djinn: the whole palaver is a result of the ancient Sunset Clause, in which minority political outfits, in
Which has delivered us at the algorithmic foot of Mbete’s Paradox, wherein the party is
Who wouldn’t hit that buzzer and walk into the Cape Town gloaming knowing that whatever the future holds, it doesn’t contain another interminable State of the Nation Address, punctuated by fistfights and by the sinister giggles of a gangster
Cicero was present in the Forum when Julius Caesar was slaughtered by members of the Senate. The great orator did not participate in the bloodletting, and nor did he precipitate it. But he watched as the conspirators hacked away at the human god, stabbing each other in their blood frenzy. Five decades of political skullduggery did not prepare him for the moment. “What had happened,” wrote a biographer, “was a mystery to him.”
Regicide, however banal and bureaucratic in its execution, is full of mysteries.
Shockingly, Mbete’s short address actually tried to incorporate all of these implicit mysteries, “in a balanced and rational manner, bearing in mind that some of these factors may be contradictory in nature.”
As such, her “balanced and rational” decision was not one most South Africans anticipated.
Yet Maynard Mack, in his essay “The Modernity of ‘Julius Caesar,’” couldn’t help but note
Indeed, the Western canon plays the death of Julius Caesar on repeat for a single reason: nothing is rougher than committing regicide. In the case of Zuma and the secret ballot, the ANC is a broad church, but it is still a village:
Forget the prognostications. Forget the numerical estimations. Enjoy, if you can, August 8, the outcome of which is presently unknowable, even to the experts.
This one comes down to the wire.
But it’s almost as if Cicero wrote the script for this moment in South Africa’s history. He understood the likes of Jacob Zuma; they have existed forever. Of them, he is said to have said:
“A nation can survive its
Indeed. But Cicero also knew that fear, which is to say the driving mechanism of politics, never delivers simple outcomes. DM
Photo of Jacob Zuma by Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick
(* The Anc has 249 seats, but two are vacant because of death (Timothy Khoza, who died in last week’s oversight vehicle crash & Trevor Bonhomme, who died at end of July). ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu on Friday indicate “one or two” would be absent due to work commitments, including international travel. And there could be several absences due to ill health and/or hospitalisation, including Nomalungelo Gina, who was seriously injured in last week’s crash of the vehicle carrying the basic education committee on an oversight trip to Paarl. – Ed)