Unexpected winners and sore losers
Tabane is the author of and host of on Power 98.7 – Sundays to Thursdays from 9.30pm to midnight.
ANYONE who truly cares about the ANC and its electoral fortunes in 2019 cannot celebrate the events of last week in Parliament. Not since 1994 has the ANC in Parliament been so humiliated, with a united opposition walking away as victors in the court of strategy and tactics, notwithstanding the superficial defeat of the famous motion of no-confidence.
The ANC, as a supposed leader of society, had its moral bankruptcy fully displayed as the majority of its members of Parliament chose party over country even though the choices have never been clearer. What is worse is that there are some in the ANC who genuinely believe that this was a victory of some kind over the opposition.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Moral leadership requires extraordinary measures in times of crisis and also requires men and women of courage to do something that is not business as usual.
Perhaps our forebears anticipated moments such as these when they designed a system that allows for a secret ballot. With our history of disenfranchisement such a system was clearly meant to reduce the power of party apparatchiks even in a party-centred electoral system and to elevate commitment to the bigger and broader cause of the people, as contained in the oath of office that individual members are expected to take upon assuming office.
The endpoint of such a secret vote was a confirmation that our constitutional democracy is higher than loyalty to a mere party line. Everyone understood that the declaration for a secret vote was exactly meant to allow members of Parliament to vote as they see fit and not necessarily as dictated to by their parties.
This element of our democracy is not diametrically opposed to our party political system. In fact it can serve to strengthen it by making political parties understand that they don’t have unfettered power over their members but that everyone is expected to conform to the constitution.
Clearly the ANC seems to need this kind of moral babysitting from time to time if the Nkandla bungle is anything to go by. The majority the ANC wields in Parliament is clearly not absolute and has to take into account the constitutional conscripts of accountability to the people. Ignoring this has already cost the ANC a little in recent times and irked the highest court in the land.
Given this context, three things must be considered.
First, the decision of the Speaker rises to the challenge of non-partisanship because the possibility of a loss of the vote by the ANC was real under the circumstances. In other words, it is believable that the ANC desired an open vote because it was in doubt about the balance of forces in its own ranks.
The Speaker did the right thing, leading the way for the other members to do what is right by the people rather than what is narrowly right by the party. For this she must be commended. After her horrible performance, presiding over the fifth democratic Parliament, she redeemed herself suitably with this one action that almost made President Zuma suffer the consequences of his conduct for once.
Sceptics suggest that this action was somehow connected to her own misplaced ambition to become the head of state. I don’t believe that for one minute and refuse to allow even my own bias about her poor leadership skills to sway me otherwise. I believe credit must be given where it is due.
Second, the 26 members of the ANC who showed the courage of their convictions must also be commended for defying a corrupted and captured party, bereft of any moral compass.
This act might have earned them a place in the annals of history. While their action did not result in the demise of Zuma, it sent a strong warning shot to the looters of the state that their days are truly numbered. It has also emboldened the opposition not to stop trying because the ANC will always vote as a united bloc.
It furthermore gave hope to South Africans that they still have some public representatives with ethical backbones. In a twist of irony, it has also given new hope to some of us who were beginning to lose hope in the project to save the ANC from itself.
It is clear that the salvation of the ANC will not come from its formal structures but will come from men and women of integrity who won’t fear to defy the structures if need be.
Finally, anyone who analyses the current ANC carefully will agree that a multiplicity of actions, especially ones unconstrained by a dogmatic party line, is the only way the ANC can keep its 11-million voter support base. Holding on to power will require a strategy that will appeal to the sensibilities of all those voters and not merely to the card-carrying members who might still be precious about respect for the party’s archaic democratic centralism.
Given this analysis, it would be dangerous in the extreme for the ANC to conduct a witch hunt seeking to punish those that voted against the party line. This action will not be possible without once again breaking the law. The Constitutional Court has pronounced itself very clearly on the matter of intimidation and reprisals and the Speaker has also made a clear ruling on the matter.
Punishing those that voted otherwise would be a violation of the law and bad PR for the ANC. Some in the ANC seem, however, to have painted themselves into a corner where they again intend to put the party’s moral depravity on full display. This would nullify the good that may come out of this whole saga for the ANC, at a time that it needs every good will in the world to hold on to power, come 2019.
GETTING IT RIGHT THIS TIME: Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete redeemed herself by opting for a secret vote in the Zuma no-confidence vote, the writer says.