SA reaps whirlwind of indecision
While the nation waits for National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete’s decision on whether to give MPs a secret ballot on the motion to remove President Jacob Zuma next week, behind the scenes parliamentary staff are preparing for a showdown.
City Press has learnt that ballot boxes and booths that were last used in May 2014 to elect Mbete, who is also the national chairperson of the ANC, as the assembly’s Speaker have been dusted off and internal printers made ready to print voting papers should she accede to the opposition’s request for a secret ballot.
“We have the material [such as ballot boxes] bought ahead of the sitting to elect the Speaker and president in 2014 and we stored them. The only thing is the printing of the ballot paper,” said a source with intimate knowledge of the process. The voting paper would be printed in the event Mbete accedes to the opposition’s request for a secret ballot.
On Thursday, Parliament hosted a special security meeting which was attended by the police, Parliament’s protection services, the State Security Agency and the presidential protection unit to discuss plans for August 8, the day of the motion. Among the considerations discussed was the closing of certain streets around Parliament and even keeping some parliamentary staff away from work on the day. No final agreement was reached on proposals, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.
The City of Cape Town has approved marches by both the ANC and the opposition parties to Parliament ahead of the debate, which is scheduled to start at 2pm. The ANC’s Dullah Omar region applied for a march of 15 000 participants from Grand Parade to Parliament in support of Zuma. The opposition coalition, consisting of the DA, EFF, IFP, ACDP and the #ZumaMustFall movement, is also hoping to attract 15 000 supporters on that day to call for the removal of the president.
City spokesperson Hayley van der Woude said a group called Unite Behind Coalition – which is made up of civil society organisations and religious bodies – has also changed its plans to gather in the city centre on August 8 to the day before.
Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo denied that Thursday’s meeting was about August 8, suggesting that it was one of a series of joint meetings between Parliament and government representatives in preparation for next February’s state of the nation address.
City Press spoke to four experts who slated Mbete for delaying her decision, saying this was creating unnecessary uncertainty.
Former National Party MP Piet Matthee prepared a document on the scenarios around the secret ballot for MPs to consider ahead of the August 8 debate. He also suggested that in the event the Speaker decided on an open vote, there should be an immediate application to the court for an interdict to say that “no party is allowed to threaten or institute disciplinary action or terminate a member’s membership of the party and of Parliament because of the way he or she exercised his or her constitutional obligations of oversight by voting”.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said if Mbete declined the request for a secret ballot, the options were for the voting to go ahead or some party to institute a court challenge stating that the Speaker’s discretion was irrational and not in line with what the Constitutional Court had said. This would most likely end with another court case and another postponement of the vote.
“If you don’t want the president to be removed from office, it would make sense to give the opposition as little time as possible to make the decision; and to try to string this thing out for as long as possible,” said De Vos.
Lawson Naidoo, of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said: “The delay leads to suspicions and perceptions that there may be an external influence.”
ANC stalwart and former MP Ben Turok was more scathing in his assessment of the situation. He said Mbete was conflicted as a Speaker because of her other position as ANC chairperson. “She obviously puts that first and, therefore, she thinks politically and not constitutionally.”
Turok said Mbete was a “very indecisive” person on matters of principle.
Mothapo reiterated a parliamentary statement in which Mbete appealed to all parties to afford her office the necessary space to make an appropriate decision.
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