Today, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, declared that the motion of no confidence on 8 August 2017 will be conducted by secret ballot.
It is a decision made after many years of deliberation, public action and outcry, and tense national crises. It is the culmination of the many triumphs and mistakes of brave and unscrupulous individuals and of defiant and obedient peoples. It comes at a moment where the South African people are searching in the dark shadow of a towering past for an identity. This is a country deeply divided along the lines of race and sexism, of social and economic inequality, and of born-frees and Apartheid-born. And these dividers define the storytelling of South Africa, an art born from a young nation searching for its true identity.
That everything that things have reached this point is a sign of how well this country’s constituion-based democracy was thought out and implemented in 1994. That we have a secret ballot is a result of South Africa’s vibrant Constitution ensuring the existence of a legal precedence for the removal of a corrupt administration. But that things have fallen apart so hard before the emergency safeguards could be engaged speaks of how much the people of South Africa have given up on its falling dream.
The secret ballot is happening is thanks to a group of people, both representing the African National Congress (ANC) and the Apartheid administration of the time, ensuring that there would always be accountability through the safeguards of a democratic Republic. However, those once freedom-loving members of the ANC never envisioned that their party would become subject to those same safeguards. But maybe they did, as politics has and will always be a dirty and corrupting game. Even those with the noblest of intentions are often cut down by the great seduction of power.
Whatever happens tomorrow, the presidency of Jacob Zuma will likely not see past this year. If there is an outright majority for the motion to be dismissed, then Zuma himself will be dismissed at the ANC’s year-end conference. There are still enough good people in the organisation who know that he and his well-known backers do not represent the hopes and ideals of the people who built the democracy in 1994. And with the authority of the Constitutional Court being called upon to decide the fate of South Africa, perhaps these people will finally realise that they are no longer the successors whom Sisulu, Tambo, Hani, Slovo, Biko, Mbeki, and Mandela had counted on them being.
But South Africa has a very long way to go on its road to finally being a Rainbow Nation. Jacob Zuma has shown that there are deep hatreds, prejudices, and ideological differences that were never reconciled or reformed. These differences have continued to fester and manifest in the brutal violence that has plagued South Africa in its many forms. The people of a country derive their moral fabric from those they elect to lead it. If this is true, then in electing an administation led by a violent and unreasonable man, the precedent is set for the public to achieve ends by violent and unreasonable means. The level of violence in South Africa against women and children, against socially and economically marginalised peoples, against local and foreign-born, has reached a point of no return.
The Speaker’s decision has been made with keeping this violence in mind. The violence of the past was never reconciled, and despite the ignorant pleas by many who would like to wish away the deep and systemic brainwashing that Apartheid brought to South Africa, this violence must now be reconciled.
The level of inequality in this country is paramount, and no one political party can fix it. It’s up to the people of the land to reconcile themselves. The people have elected their representatives in Parliament, and those representatives will vote tomorrow to ensure that the highest office of the land bows to the Republic. But if they do not vote in such a manner, then the people will know that their representatives are the problem, not the democracy itself. And the people will correct this in 2019’s national elections. To vote out a corrupt administration is the right of the People of the Republic. It is an ability envisioned by the nation’s architects, and not many other countries have this manner of representation and accountability.
I do not believe that any member of the Opposition has a defined and actionable plan of totally addressing South Africa’s deep and divisive problems, as they themselves, like the current makeup of the ANC, are the products of those same problems. However, I do believe, that together with an ANC that is finally willing to come to the table, they may as a collective represent the diversity of South Africa, and perhaps, that collective may finally be able to get the Individual to hear the Other out.
Perhaps this is what Speaker Baleka Mbete meant in her address to the South African people when she answered the call for the Nation’s democracy to be made more clear. And perhaps, at the end, when all things have been considered, this will be the post-1994 moment when the South African identity will finally begin again to take shape, for the dream of a Rainbow Nation to be lifted up once more.
May God bless the Republic of South Africa and her people.
Fellow South Africans, following the Constitutional Court decision that I, as Speaker of the National Assembly, have the constitutional power to prescribe the voting procedure in a motion of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South Africa to be conducted in the National Assembly, either by way of a secret ballot or open vote, and having taken due, independent and impartial consideration of all the legal, constitutional and political factors below, especially those articulated by the Constitutional Court, in a balanced and rational manner, bearing in mind that some of these factors may be contradictory in nature, I take this opportunity to present to the country my decision on the matter.
I have taken this extraordinary approach in the interests of transparency and also having taken account of the huge interest in this matter which has been expressed in various quarters of society. I, therefore, wish to appeal to members of the media that I will not take questions after this briefing.
At the outset, I wish to indicate that it is always important for societal actors, in particular political parties, to have confidence in our courts and in our Parliament. I, therefore, find the public pronouncements and calls that the Speaker will act in a partisan manner, reprehensible and unpalatable for our democracy. I am elected by the Assembly to perform the role of Speaker and as long as that has not changed I will not recuse myself. Thus, the call for the Speaker to recuse herself from the proceedings tomorrow has no constitutional basis and is, therefore, legally misplaced.
Fellow South Africans, all facts, factors, circumstances and information available to me that I have taken into consideration in making this decision, include the following:
1. On 22 June 2017, the Constitutional Court (CC) ruled that a vote of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South Africa (President) is constitutionally permissible whether through an open vote or secret ballot and that I, as the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), have the constitutional power to decide the voting procedure for such vote of no confidence.
2. So, although the Constitution does not prescribe a specific voting procedure for the removal of the President by way of a motion of no confidence, it does permit for a voting procedure which may be either by way of an open vote or secret ballot and the making of such decision lies exclusively with me, as Speaker, in terms of the Rules of the NA.
3. I am mindful of the fact and the Constitutional Court has reminded me of this fact that I, as Speaker, when exercising this exclusive constitutional power to determine the procedure of voting in a motion of no confidence, must do so on a proper and rational basis. In this respect, I, inter alia, invited the political parties who are represented in the NA to provide me with submissions on their views of the matter, and also requested to be provided with legal advice, which I took into consideration before deciding this matter.
4. I understand and accept that a motion of no confidence in the President is a very important matter; a potent tool towards holding the President to account; one connected to the foundational values of accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the people; that it constitutes one of the severest political consequences imaginable; especially that a threat of a motion of no confidence “will remain virtually inconsequential in the absence of an effective operationalising mechanism to give it the vital bite, when necessary”.
5. I also understand and accept that central to the freedom of a Member of Parliament (Member) “to follow the dictates of personal conscience” is the fact that the Member takes an oath of office of faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution and laws, and there is no constitutional obligation for a Member to swear allegiance to his or her political party.
6. Therefore, when I exercise this constitutional power I understand and accept that I must be duly guided by the need to ensure that Members exercise their oversight powers effectively and it must be in the interest of the people and in obedience of the Constitution, to enable effective accountability of and over the Executive. I have also considered the fact that the Constitutional Court has indicated that a motion of no confidence in the President of the Republic of South is a very important matter, in fact it is a very important tool used to hold the President to account.
7. I am cognisant of the fact that the Constitutional Court also enjoined me, when exercising this power, to take into account considerations of the foundational constitutional principle of openness and transparency entrenched in the Constitution. I am particularly mindful of the fact that section 1(d) of the Constitution sets “openness” as a foundational principle for the Constitution and our democracy. The Constitution further instructs that the National Assembly must conduct its business in an ‘’open manner’’.
8. As representatives of the electorate, Members are not supposed to always operate under a cover of secrecy. Considerations of transparency and openness sometimes demand a display of courage and resoluteness to boldly advance the interests of those that they represent, no matter the consequences, including the risk of dismissal for non-compliance with party instructions.
9. The Constitutional Court indicated that the electorate is at times entitled to know how their representatives carry out even some of their most sensitive obligations and this includes voting in a motion of no confidence. However, this reality may not always be possible where there are instances of intimidation. In terms of the Constitutional Court judgment if Members are constitutionally obliged to vote according to their conscience it follows that no Member can suffer any harm, hardship or punitive action if they comply with the Constitution and vote according to their conscience. A reading of the Constitutional Court judgment suggests that any action of a political party against a public representative who voted in accordance with their conscience may be struck down for violating the Constitution.
10. The value of openness and transparency is always our natural manner of conducting business, and which we should never take for granted. The Constitutional Court has however compelled us to consider a variety of other factors.
11. The Constitutional Court has indicated that a secret ballot becomes necessary where the prevailing atmosphere is toxified or highly charged. It is my duty to act responsibly when I assess how my decision will impact on all members. I have conducted a thorough assessment of the situation and how it will impact on all members
12. The Speaker must maintain and preserve the order of and the proper decorum in the House and uphold the dignity and good name of the House. Parliament is a forum for public consideration of issues. This Parliament is seized with a responsibility to deal with complex issues. The people of South Africa look to Parliament to give direction during challenging times. We dare not underestimate this privilege and responsibility.
13. The people of South Africa also look to Parliament for signals of hope. I have considered the environment and heard voices expressing doubt in the integrity and values of our 20-year old Constitution. We, therefore, have to use this opportunity to show responsiveness to our people. This decision is, therefore, in the best interest of the country.
14. The Speaker is required to guard the procedures of this House and to ensure that the outcome of this very important vote is credible. The Speaker must do this without fear or favour. It is with that in mind that this decision is also about putting the resilience of our democratic institution to test.
15. Having considered all the factors, and mindful of the fact that this decision is not setting a precedent, I determine that voting on the motion of no confidence in the President on 8 August 2017 will be by secret ballot.