South Africa


Motions of no confidence double feature — it’s all about the politics

Illustrative image | Sources: An empty ballot box is held up as the National Assembly prepares to vote on the motion of no confidence in Parliament on Tuesday, 9 August 2017. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Leader of the DA John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

One day. Two motions of no confidence. One in Cabinet, one in the president. Two legal actions on how votes must be cast.

A lawyer’s letter is heading to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to ensure Wednesday’s unprecedented DA motion of no confidence in Cabinet takes place in person — and excludes ministers. 

DA leader John Steenhuisen on Thursday said ministers had conflicts of interest by virtue of their jobs, salaries and perks, which meant they should not vote in South Africa’s first no-confidence motion in Cabinet next week. No secret ballot is required.

“South Africans should know how their MPs voted, so when they live in misery and poverty they know exactly who to pin their misery and poverty on.”

The vote in the no-confidence motion in Cabinet — scheduled for 30 March — must be in person, according to Steenhuisen, ditching the current practice of political party chief whips collating numbers in the House and the virtual platform before announcing total party votes.

Crucially, before the Covid-19 lockdown that on Friday marks Day 729, Parliament recorded each MP’s vote that was also published by name in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC) — Parliament’s record of work.

That ministers would be allowed to vote in the no-confidence motion in Cabinet was announced by the Speaker in the 10 March programming committee meeting.

That day, DA deputy chief whip Siviwe Gwarube pointed out this would “allow the executive to vote for themselves. It makes it a sham…” and asked for a reconsideration.

“You can’t deny people the right to vote, because the law allows them. If you want to take this on review you can do so…” replied Mapisa-Nqakula, who was supported by ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina: “We second your ruling.”

And now a DA lawyer’s letter is headed to Mapisa-Nqakula. 

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Already she’s cited in court action for a secret ballot by the African Transformation Movement (ATM) for its no-confidence motion in Ramaphosa. 

That the Speaker decides whether a vote is secret was settled by the Constitutional Court in June 2017. However, the ATM’s earlier legal action led to a Supreme Court of Appeal finding in December 2021 that former Speaker Thandi Modise had misapplied her discretion — and referred the matter back to the Speaker.

On 10 March, Mapisa-Nqakula  told the programming committee that she had decided on an open vote, but after discussions added, “those of you who have reservations about my ruling will make formal submissions…” 

It seems that process has not resolved the issues — the ATM is back in court pushing for a secret ballot two days before its 30 March no-confidence motion in Ramaphosa.

At Thursday’s programming committee, it emerged that the voting system is unable to host a secret ballot. What to do about that — and what would happen if the ATM succeeded in interdicting the National Assembly — were kicked for touch to Mapisa-Nqakula, who was attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union with other MPs at Nusa Dua, Bali, from 20 to 24 March.

At the same time, Parliament’s future arrangements after the 2 January fire destroyed much of the National Assembly buildings, remain up in the air.

The matter was not raised in Thursday’s programming committee as, Daily Maverick is informed, discussions in the Chief Whips’ Forum a day earlier were not finalised in the absence of detailed reports on costs. 

That had been outstanding from the 3 March programming committee, which confirmed the institution was looking at alternative venues like the City Hall, Cape Town International Convention Centre, the Good Hope Centre, a marquee and various community halls.

With decisions outstanding on how Parliament best moves forward to conduct its business following the fire, investigations into the 2 January blaze also are unfinished.

It’s understood that while some reinforcements have been put in place in the gutted National Assembly wing — movable fencing and police crime scene tape sealed off entrances — the collapsed roof remains without a covering despite the approaching rainy season.

And so Parliament continues online and in hybrid sittings in the Good Hope chamber, where the two motions of no confidence are scheduled for 30 March.

However, a final word on the ATM secret ballot no-confidence motion in Ramaphosa may only come at the last minute, possibly even on the day itself.

Regardless of what happens to the ATM no-confidence motion, the DA is set to insist its motion of no confidence in Cabinet — a first for Parliament — must proceed.

As part of the politicking ahead of this constitutional motion debate on Thursday, the DA released its assessment of how ministers are faring on their performance agreements with the president. Unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly not very well. This assessment follows the opposition party’s general petition with a hashtag, #CabinetMustGo, and a series of MPs’ public statements each citing five reasons why Ramaphosa’s Cabinet had to go.

Unprecedented as it is, if the DA were to succeed, Ramaphosa would be left without his ministers, although nothing would expressly stop him from reconstituting his Cabinet with the same ministers.

But it’s unlikely the DA will win its no-confidence motion — even if the 26 ministers, who are also MPs, were excluded from the vote. Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel are the two constitutionally permissible appointments from outside Parliament. 

As Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille leads GOOD, if ministers were excluded, the ANC’s 230 seats would be down to 205. And even if several other ANC MPs were to be absent, it’s enough to defeat the motion that requires a simple majority in the House.

Combined, the DA, EFF, IFP, Freedom Front Plus and African Christian Democratic Party make up 158 votes. While opposition parties in Parliament are again meeting to consider joint action, it’s not always going to happen that way. 

But that’s the numbers. On Wednesday, it’s all about the politics. DM



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  • Such a waste of time, surely there are more constructive/ productive ways of engaging the cabinet and expressing our dissatisfaction?

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