The Speaker has shown courage – will MPs?
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?