The Speaker has shown courage – will MPs?

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - RAY MCCAULEY Pas­tor Ray McCauley is the pres­i­dent of Rhema Fam­ily of Churches and co-chair­per­son of the Na­tional Re­li­gious Lead­ers Coun­cil

SPEAKER of Par­lia­ment Baleka Mbete has proved that when it mat­ters most, she can place the coun­try ahead of her po­lit­i­cal party – and that is what is ex­pected of a per­son who oc­cu­pies her po­si­tion.

Her de­ci­sion to al­low for a se­cret vote in to­day’s mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was coura­geous and de­serves praise.

It is now up to the ANC mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

Do they vote Zuma out or do they fol­low the party line?

It’s an open se­cret that a num­ber of ANC MPs are not happy with Zuma’s lead­er­ship of the coun­try.

They are not alone. The ANC’s al­liance part­ners aren’t im­pressed ei­ther. Nei­ther is civil so­ci­ety.

But will the ANC MPs lis­ten to the in­creas­ing voice of the peo­ple, or will they do what those in au­thor­ity in their party tell them to do, although they may not agree with it?

And how do they toe the party line with­out be­ing seen as sup­port­ing Zuma and what his Gupta friends are al­leged to have done?

Come 2019, will the vot­ing pub­lic not be jus­ti­fied in telling the ANC to go and ask for votes from Zuma and his Gupta friends, be­cause when it had to make a choice, it chose to save Zuma rather than the vot­ers?

What hap­pens to the ANC MPs’ in­di­vid­u­al­ity when the col­lec­tive clashes with their per­sonal val­ues? Is there a place for per­sonal val­ues in the ANC?

These are the ques­tions that must be go­ing through the minds of some of the ANC MPs. In­deed, some, we know, are tired of de­fend­ing a man who has no qualms throw­ing them un­der the bus when po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency so de­mands.

The ANC MPs have been placed in this in­vid­i­ous po­si­tion not be­cause of pol­icy dif­fer­ences with the pres­i­dent or within the ANC, but be­cause of their pres­i­dent’s mis­judg­ments and du­bi­ous friend­ship with the Gup­tas.

It is a friend­ship which has noth­ing to do with the his­tor­i­cal mis­sion of the ANC and its poli­cies. Cer­tainly, when the ANC was formed, its found­ing fa­thers didn’t have the Gup­tas in mind – not even the per­sonal or po­lit­i­cal for­tunes of Zuma or any of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pres­i­dents, for that mat­ter. The cause was far no­bler. The ANC’s MPs and the coun­try could have been spared this en­tire sad saga had the pres­i­dent been firm with his friends and told them: “Not in my name. You will not do such things while you are as­so­ci­ated with me.”

To date, he has not even ex­pressed a word about his dis­com­fort, if he has any, re­gard­ing the al­leged con­duct of his Gupta friends.

Ei­ther he has too much con­fi­dence in their saint­hood or his sense of moral­ity has de­serted him.

We prayer­fully hope the MPs will this af­ter­noon place the coun­try first. Their Speaker has risen to the oc­ca­sion and we hope they will too.

At an­other level, the de­bate about which way the ANC MPs should vote brings into sharp fo­cus the de­fi­cien­cies of our po­lit­i­cal party sys­tem. As South Africans, we some­times naively think ours, the party-based sys­tem, is the best demo­cratic sys­tem in the world.

But, as we are quickly find­ing out, that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the case. We all don’t have the fig­ures (the last we had were in 2014 dur­ing the na­tional elec­tions) in­di­cat­ing sup­port or oth­er­wise for Zuma.

But what hap­pens when, mid­way through the elec­toral term, vot­ers be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with the in­cum­bent in of­fice?

Do they wait for the end of the term when, in their view, the in­cum­bent could be harm­ing na­tional in­ter­ests? Should the vot­ers take as the fi­nal word the rul­ing party’s po­si­tion on the mat­ter, and how do we en­sure that na­tional in­ter­ests are not harmed by self­ish party in­ter­ests?

Given where things are to­day, I don’t think our sys­tem passes this test.

The party-based sys­tem also crushes in­di­vid­u­al­ity. In­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the party are ex­pected to toe the party line and fol­low it blindly. This must be dif­fi­cult for free-spir­ited and in­de­pen­dent thinkers.

Join­ing a party should not mean sur­ren­der­ing your right to dis­sent or to dif­fer.

Threats of con­se­quences for dis­senters are in sharp con­trast to some of the fun­da­men­tals con­tained in our con­sti­tu­tion – free­dom of thought and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Ideas and po­si­tions should pre­vail not be­cause of threats against those who dif­fer but be­cause of their qual­ity and merit.

If the chair­per­son of the ANC cau­cus in Par­lia­ment is of the view that vot­ing against the pres­i­dent would plunge the coun­try into a cri­sis, the party must con­vince its MPs with­out an ac­com­pa­ny­ing threat that there will be no con­se­quences for those who may dis­sent.

My last is­sue with the cur­rent sys­tem is that it can un­wit­tingly lead to a dic­ta­tor­ship of the rul­ing party.

As we are find­ing out, dic­ta­tor­ship is not lim­ited to an in­di­vid­ual. A party can im­pose its po­si­tion on a mat­ter, us­ing its ma­jor­ity, ir­re­spec­tive of how so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing its mem­bers, feels about it. We need a cure for this in our sys­tem. What­ever the out­come of the mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in Zuma, the cur­rent sys­tem can dis­en­fran­chise or­di­nary vot­ers and cit­i­zens and force them to live with the choice of party lead­ers.

The time may have come for South Africans to re­vive the Van Zyl Slab­bert Com­mis­sion Re­port on Elec­toral Re­form.

Is there a place for per­sonal val­ues in the ANC?

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