THE ANC turned on backbencher Mondli Gungubele yesterday. The vitriol was clear to see. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has challenged his own party to bring errant MPs into line. Mthembu doesn’t have much time left. A week from today, Parliament will vote for the umpteenth time on whether it has confidence in Jacob Zuma’s presidency. Up until now the ANC caucus has voted in lockstep, defeating the motion.
This time, though, the stakes have never been higher. Only 50 of the ANC’s 249 MPs need to vote with the opposition next week.
The president is reviled, both in and outside his party, with senior backbenchers like Pravin Gordhan, our former finance minister; Makhosi Khoza and now Gungubele, most recently Ekurhuleni mayor, openly not just rebelling but publicly calling on their fellow members of Parliament to vote against Zuma.
On top of this, the Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, has been told by the Constitutional Court that it is within her remit whether the vote should be secret.
It would appear unlikely that she would offer MPs the option of a free vote with no fear of consequence.
This though doesn’t help Mthembu, when the voices of dissent are becoming louder and more prominent.
His saving grace thus far has been MPs’ fear of the consequences, the knowledge that people wouldn’t commit career suicide with the loss of all the perks that go with being an MP – including a generous salary – any more than turkeys would vote for Christmas.
The tenor of his outbursts and the rising hysteria show just how worried Mthembu is about the unthinkable happening.
He can wave his party rule book as much as he wants, he can threaten and bluster, he can throw as much mud about individuals’ motives, but he’s living every parliamentary whip’s worst nightmare – the potential of a runaway caucus.
And that nightmare just gets exponentially worse when it’s led by people of principle, against whom his threats are meaningless.
The next seven days are going to be very interesting indeed.