In announcing a secret ballot for Tuesday’s no confidence vote in President Jacob Zuma, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete stepped up to the plate of constitutional responsibility. South Africans looked to Parliament for “signals of hope”, she said on Monday afternoon less than 24 hours before the debate and vote. “I have considered the environment and heard voices expressing doubt in the integrity and values of our 20-year-old Constitution. We therefore have to use this opportunity to show responsiveness to our people. This decision is, therefore, in the best interest of the country.”? By MARIANNE MERTEN.
But it ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings. And that is the count, and announcement, of the secret ballot in Tuesday’s no confidence debate and vote. Two-hundred and one yeas are needed for a successful motion, leading to the resignation of Zuma, his deputy, the whole Cabinet and the deputy ministers, in line with Section 102(2) of the Constitution.
Shortly after Mbete’s announcement for a secret ballot, opposition parties said they were confident they had the required support from ANC MPs. It’s been three months of lobbying and cajoling – the motion was first set down for 18 April, but postponed pending the Constitutional Court action by the United Democratic Movement (UDM), IFP and Cope – and the lobbying was set to continue overnight.
That’s lobbying not only by the opposition parties in the ranks of the ANC parliamentary caucus, but also by those within the ANC who favour a vote of conscience rather than toeing the party line of defeating what the governing party continues to call a “frivolous” opposition motion, to find like-minded party colleagues.
With the opposition holding a combined 151 seats it needs everyone present and voting in support of the motion – that’s not going to happen as some of the smaller parties have indicated they would abstain – plus well over 50, preferably at least 60 or 70 ANC MPs, to carry the motion.
The ANC nationally and in Parliament on Monday maintained the motion would be defeated. “We reiterate our stance that the ANC will vote against this motion. We will not vote with the opposition to collapse our democratically elected government,” said ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu on Monday afternoon.
ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said earlier: “We do not nor have we ever doubted their (ANC MPs) loyalty and discipline in relation to the decisions of the movement. Accordingly, we have no doubt that this frivolous motion, which has been hyped up by opposition parties as some sort of Damascus moment, will fail like many before it.”
The last no confidence motion on 10 November, 2016 was defeated 214 against, 126 in favour. That vote was difficult for ANC MPs, former tourism minister now parliamentarian Derek Hanekom told Daily Maverick’s The Gathering – Media Edition last week. But the hope had been that the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) would ask Zuma to step down. This was defeated in the NEC then, and again earlier this year, despite increasingly vocal calls for Zuma to go from within the ANC veterans and stalwarts, alliance partners Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) and across civil society from labour, religious faith communities and business.
Much has changed since that last no confidence motion in Parliament.
The midnight Cabinet reshuffle of 31 March, 2017 triggered ratings downgrades as then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcibisi Jonas, both internationally respected, were removed from office amid wide-ranging changes. A technical recession hit after two quarters of contraction in the wake of low business and consumer confidence. Economic growth forecasts stalled even as the international recovery from the 2008 economic crisis continued elsewhere in the globe, as South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago recently pointed out in Parliament. Unemployment has increased to 27.7% on the restricted definition – and has remained there – while it hits just over 36% on the broader definition of including all those who want to work but can’t find employment.
Into this mix came the Scorpio and amaBhungane #GuptaLeaks, the tens of thousands of emails tracing a web between the politically connected family, its businesses and associates to politicians of the ANC government and governing party deployees into government ranks and state-owned entities (SOEs). Those who took over in the finance portfolio, Malusi Gigaba and his deputy Sifiso Buthelezi, have not escaped the leaked emails exposure, neither have Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and others.
Add to this the drop in the ANC’s local government performance to 54%, including the loss of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay Metros, the Public Protector’s State of Capture report of November 2016, Brian Molefe’s stepping down in that report followed by his controversial return and ultimate dismissal as Eskom’s boss, the fraught debacle at the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the governance and financial controversies at the SAA, which recently received a R2.2-billion bailout from taxpayers’ money.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that increasingly ANC MPs mention in various parliamentary committees that they are confronted with such issues in their constituencies – and are asked why there has been no concrete action.
Opposition parties on Monday welcomed the secret ballot.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said it was the moment to “save South Africa from an irredeemable president”, later adding: “It is the time for public representatives to be faithful to their oath of office (to uphold and serve the Constitution).”
EFF leader Julius Malema said the way was now clear for ANC MPs “to do the right thing” and to vote with their conscience. “… Zuma did not support a secret ballot, so effectively the ANC did not support (it). Effectively Baleka (Mbete) went against the party line. If Baleka goes against the party line in public what stops an ordinary (ANC) MP from going against the party line in secret?”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane added: “ANC MPs now have no excuse. They must use their vote… to stand up to grand corruption and vote to remove Jacob Zuma as president. While the removal of Jacob Zuma will not solve every problem in our nation, it would be the beginning of a national rebuilding project that is urgently required.”
Much of the ANC’s fight-back against this, the eighth no confidence motion against Zuma, is centred on raising the spectre of a collapsed government, should it succeed. Comparisons to nuclear explosions were invoked. However, much of this response is unrelated to the set down and clear processes, but rather tied to the ANC’s fractured factionalised state: Zuma’s resignation following a successful no confidence vote would happen amid tense jockeying in the ANC with just less than five months to go before its December elective national conference.
While during his Q&A in the House on 22 June Zuma dismissed a secret ballot, just hours earlier the Constitutional Court judgment held that parliamentarians swore an oath of office to uphold and serve the Constitution and the country, not political party allegiance. And that it was up to Mbete to decide on whether the vote was open or secret.
“When I exercise this constitutional power I understand and accept that I must be duly guided by the need to ensure that Members (of Parliament) exercise their oversight powers effectively and it must be in the interest of the people and in obedience of the Constitution, to enable effective accountability of and over the executive,” Mbete said.
But after three bruising years as Speaker presiding amid repeated opposition accusations that she was biased and conflicted due to her position of ANC national chairperson, there were also other considerations at play. “The people of South Africa also look to Parliament for signals of hope,” Mbete said, adding that this was a test of the “resilience of democratic institutions”.
Considerations of the circumstances, factors and related matters, including the intimidation of outspoken ANC MPs like Makhosi Khoza, meant a secret ballot would not set a precedent overriding the usual practices of an open vote.
And so it is a go for a secret ballot. But before that the ANC holds a caucus where its MPs could be read the riot act to toe the party line. And as the ANC Cape Town region marches for Zuma, the joint opposition does so against.
Tuesday delivers another high-stakes, high drama day in South Africa’s constitutional democracy. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete stand before the State of the Nation address at the opening session of Parliament in Cape Town, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings