When Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete announced she would allow a secret ballot in the no-confidence vote this week, she already knew ANC MPs would support President Jacob Zuma.
She had enough time to caucus with the ANC leadership and sway those who wanted to defect. Her face was a dead giveaway when she announced her decision, driven less by the ConCourt’s ruling than her conviction that Zuma would survive.
Looking triumphant and victorious, while pretending to agonise over her decision, she just knew Zuma would not lose.
Such a loss would not only be devastating for Zuma, but the ANC, which, as the vote showed, would become a weaker party dependent on coalitions to maintain power and control.
Politicians rarely undermine their own survival or walk away should life become untenable in their party. Vested interests trump constitutional integrity and commitment to the public.
We saw this on Tuesday. It doesn’t matter what the public wants, our highly unemployable ANC members of parliament were never going to make themselves jobless.
So for the opposition and civil society to view the secret ballot as democracy in action is politically naive. Worse, it could have negative constitutional ramifications for democracy in future.
I concur with journalist Angela Quintal who avers that the secret ballot is a bad precedent, which will have serious repercussions in future for accountability and transparency, a sine qua non for our elected representatives.
“It is what protects us from the injustices and the rot that occurred under the apartheid regime. What is stopping a future National Assembly speaker in a different democratic parliament from using the same secret ballot to push through legislation that might … well be highly problematical and should be rejected by all freedom-loving South Africans? What is stopping MPs from hiding behind a secret ballot when making inroads into our hard-won freedoms under the guise of a state of emergency?
“Some opposition MPs might well choose to hide behind a secret ballot and vote in favour, even though their own party might believe that such a declaration is being abused by the governing party/coalition of the day and that opposition MPs parties should rather vote ‘Nay’.
“By voting ‘Aye’ in secret instead, those opposition MPs might tip the scales and give the governing party/coalition the necessary votes to push that Act of parliament through … The very secret ballot many are celebrating today might prove our downfall in future. Even more importantly, I for one would like to know which of our elected public representatives have the balls/guts to do what is right without having to hide behind secrecy and the coward’s way out.”
To the ANC it does not matter that Zuma emerged weaker after the vote; they have given him enough time to cause more legislative, judicial and executive damage in the run-up to the ANC’s December elective conference; they have also given him time to campaign for the next presidential appointment, to safeguard his future interests.
Under siege for the next couple of months with a highly pressurised diary – September 5, the impeachment case brought by the EFF; September 15, Zuma’s appeal against the 783 corruption and fraud charges; October 23-25, the state capture hearing – hopefully this will be the straw that breaks the indefatigable camel’s back.