Opinionista Phillip Dexter 24 May 2017

Between the Scylla and Charybdis: ANC MPs and the proposed vote of no confidence

Just as Homer had to face his monsters in choosing between the Scylla and Charybdis, so to must ANC MPs.

By the look of things, ANC MPs are going to be forced to vote on a matter that should not be before them. As the country waits with bated breath for the Constitutional Court to rule on a matter that should not even be before the court, MPs are being lobbied, seduced and prayed for. Some suggest they are even being bullied and threatened.

The fact that this is happening is due, among others, to the inadequacy of the electoral system, a weakness in the Constitution and the failure of the leadership of the ANC to lead. These circumstances have created a toxic cocktail that we as citizens and as members of the ANC have had to drink once before. This dose may be final and fatal. But perhaps there is an antidote. To find it, just as Homer had to face his monsters in choosing between the Scylla and Charybdis, so to must ANC MPs.

The current vote of no confidence saga, like the Nkandla one, is not actually the ANC’s problem. These issues revolve around the person of the president. Since it is his conduct that is in question, it is he that should be paying the price for it. Yet, as has been the case since his election as president, it seems we must all suffer the misery that has accompanied his term in office.

Regardless of what we may wish, in reality it is the ANC that has to deal with comrade Jacob Zuma. He is an ANC member, a cadre of the organisation. He has, until his time in the highest office, served the movement with distinction. But his sins, for want of a better characterisation, have dragged us all down. Never before has the ANC had to pay such a heavy price to defend the property and interests of one person.

The fact that the opposition is once again turning the tables on the ANC in Parliament is due to the failure of the ANC to lead on these issues. The DA and the EFF can hardly be blamed for exploiting the ANC’s weaknesses, failures and omissions. That’s their job, as ideologically reactionary or conservative as they may be as parties.

Representative democracy is not only about truth, fairness, right or wrong, even if it should be. It is also about convincing the electorate. Perception therefore has a big role to play. Right now, the ANC is perceived to be weak, divided, directionless and to be at the service of the interests of a faction who are captured by one families business interests.

The ANC has been losing ground in this regard since 2007.

Unfortunately, the internal contradictions in the movement – the personal interests of some, the lack of ideological clarity of others and the lack of a spine in many cases – have made the opposition’s job a walk in the park. “Klapping” the ANC is as easy as “whack-a-mole” these days. Sad days for a movement that has held the moral high ground for over a century, that has survived death squads, isolation, exile and the brutal violence of apartheid.

The fact that the ANC has failed to attend to certain issues, such as the electoral system, is now haunting it. The ANC should have led the process for reform of the electoral system. Instead, it fudged the issue to suit the interests of those in leadership positions.

The party list system does not allow MPs to distinguish between their constituencies’ interests and the party’s interests. For as long as MPs are elected this way, such a contradiction will exist. The political parties, all of them if one considers their constitutions and conduct, prefer the current system, where those elected into Parliament, legislatures and councils are beholden to the party bosses. In the interim, while this is the case, to expect ANC MPs to choose between the party and the people is no real choice at all. In this regard, the ANC leadership are failing the MPs. It is the NEC of the ANC that must decide on the response of the ANC to this challenge. It is also the NEC of the ANC that must take responsibility for the consequences of such a decision.

Equally, for as long as the Constitution is silent or ambiguous on matters such as the secret ballot, there will be an attempt to exploit this. Clearly, if there is a secret ballot to elect the president, there must be one to remove the president, or, if not secret, it should apply both ways as well.

To fudge this issue is to allow a gap for the opponents of the movement to exploit. In fact, this is a pattern and a worrying one, where the ANC has to constantly pay the price for the behaviour of an individual. Why should the ANC be punished for the sake of this or that individual accused of corruption? Surely the movement must set up its own tribunal, with the power to rip these elements out and cast them on the rubbish dump of history where they belong?

When leadership fails, it is left to the people, the (proverbial?) masses, to correct their failures and to put them on the right path. We have seen a litany of such failures of late. The twists and turns around Nkandla, the nuclear deal, the Eskom debacle, SAA, the Cabinet reshuffle and, and , and….! The failure of the ANC leadership to act on such matters is a dereliction of duty. It passes the burden of responsibility to the electorate. It gives them this choice – vote for the ANC and allow the corrupt, dishonest, disingenuous, selfish, callous, irresponsible and indifferent among them to determine your fate – or vote them out of office. Yet there are so many honest, selfless, responsible servants of the people in the ANC. Surely, the movement must self-correct. If democracy, transparency and fairness prevail, it will do so.

If not, as Homer learnt, a monster must be fed. But it is imperative that in such circumstances, where a sacrifice is called for, we minimise the casualties. The ANC cannot be destroyed or lose power to shield some of its cadres from the consequences of their own actions. It is a difficult choice to make and there will be consequences, but after all, if the ANC NEC won’t lead, then the burden must fall on the MPs. It’s what they get paid for. DM

Dr Phillip Dexter is a member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.

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