Baleka’s Secret Ballot: A test of ANC MPs’ political and ideological maturity

ANC MPs who will be voting this afternoon have a responsibility to their party and to the South African Constitution. Whatever their decision, they must avoid falling into trap laid by the opposition, writes YONELA DIKO

According to some analysts and writers, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete’s decision to allow MP’s to vote by a secret ballot has effectively rolled the dice on President Jacob Zuma’s fate because the ANC does not have complete control of the outcome.

The question that has plagued most of us as ANC members, from NEC to ordinary branch members is whether ‘the ANC is an idea or ideal, noble and sacred, which stands on its own to be pursued over and against all forces, outside and inside the organisation, or is the ANC its structures, so that an ANC Member of Parliament cannot be instructed by ANC structures on a matter and object in the name of protecting ANC ‘The Idea’.

The vote of no confidence is unlikely to succeed even with a secret vote, not because of what Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst, says, that “The ANC doesn’t want to be seen changing its leadership on the back of pressure from the opposition, even though half the party believes that Mr Zuma has become a serious political liability,”.

Its failure will also not be because it would be difficult for ANC MPs to punish Zuma without punishing the ANC.

Rule 4.17 of the ANC Constitution says, ‘On being accepted in the ANC, a new member shall make the following solemn declaration as an Oath:

“I, […], solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the Constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions, that I am joining the organisation voluntarily and without motives of material advantage or personal gain, that I agree to respect the Constitution and the structures and to work as a loyal member of the organisation, that I will place my energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and carry out tasks given to me, that I will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people, and that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism”.

According to this declaration, a Member of the ANC is expected to make an oath to respect the Constitution and the structures of the organisation. As with any Constitution, all rules must be read in tandem, and not in isolation. Other rules on membership duties and responsibilities, including Rule 5 continue to emphasise this point by allowing all members of the organisation to offer constructive criticism of any member, official, policy programme or activity of the ANC ”within its structures”. It further beseeches members to submit proposals or statements to the Branch, Province, Region or NEC, provided such proposals or statements are submitted through the appropriate structures. 5.2.7 closes the duties of a Member asking members to ‘Observe discipline, behave honestly and carry out loyally the decisions of the majority and decisions of higher bodies’

The failure of the ANC, in enforcing its Rule 4 and 5 of its Constitution has resulted in ANC members poisoning the atmosphere by taking their ANC constitutional right to criticise their own organisation and its leaders in the public domain, directly violating Rule 5 which says such criticism must be done “within ANC structures”. The second failure of the ANC, tied with the second one is not being firm all its members to live up to their oath, which is very prescriptive on all ANC members to carry out loyally the decisions of the majority and decisions of higher bodies. The time for enforcing that could not be more urgent than now and it seems the ANC has finally awoken to its lacklustre enforcement of its constitution.

The ANC constitution does not provide for exceptional circumstances where one can defy decisions of its structures, decision of the majority, all in the name of protecting the organisation. Secretary General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe has said many times that sometimes decisions taken by the NEC are against his own personal sentiments, but as both a member of the ANC sworn to its Constitution to defend decisions of the majority and as its constitutional spokesperson, he must abide by and communicate such decisions as his own.

The other MP’s who are also NEC members understood that constitutionally, the President of the ANC functions under the overall supervision of the NEC (not MP’s), and the NEC has the constitutional power to institute disciplinary proceedings against any member (Including the President) and temporarily suspend the membership of any member, hence they decided to present the vote of no confidence within the NEC structure, mindful that it is only at the NEC where real difference can be made. The majority of NEC members, however, felt that the President must continue his duties as President, directing and leading the affairs of the organisation and of government.

The bigger problem of course, which has led us into this quagmire is that ANC MP’s are not only pledging allegiance to the ANC Constitution but to the Constitution of the Republic and agreed to rules of Parliament. The question is how did we arrive at a situation where ANC MPs find themselves caught between structures of the organisation and the Constitution of the republic? The ANC literally drafted the Constitution of the Republic. Whether this antagonism between the ANC Constitution and the country’s constitution is real or imagined is hard to measure. If, however, this antagonism is based on marches and public gatherings, then it is hard to measure them except at the ballot box. More importantly, we have seen real discontentment about the President in other parts of the country, and so bringing a million people into a city centre, given the hype about President Zuma’s sins should be easy. But we have not witnessed it.

If ANC MP’s are so persuaded that the President is not fit for office and has violated the Constitution of the republic, what are their options? The risk for MP’s is not to be seen to behave as ‘special members’, and think they are smarter than the majority, that somehow, they have a monopoly of wisdom, more than the ANC Caucus, whose position is that has been that even in secret they will keep the ANC President in his position, partly because of fear of falling into political gamesmanship of opposition parties and well, maybe because other MPs view the President in a more positive light. There is also a risk of calling the bluff of the urban middle-class which is has been on an offensive against the President since he assumed office because he does not look, sound and think like them as the voice of the entire country. So, when MP’s like the outspoken Makhosi Khoza say they are listening to the public, there is always a question of who are they listening to exactly?

The NEC January 8th statement of 2005 gave effect to the constitutional duties of members and what is to be expected of them in the broad tasks of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) wherever they find themselves. It said members (including MPs) should be guided by the vision provided by the Freedom Charter and the resolutions of party conferences, including ANC manifestos. The statement was clear that all these ANC documents have always been designed to intensify political and ideological work both within the ranks of the movement and among the people, which should also help us further to develop the level of political development and maturity of our members, making them even better combatants for the victory of the national democratic revolution. The question is whether ANC MPs have the political maturity to see why ANC structures have decided to keep President Zuma in his position.

What remains true however is that a demand for committed and disciplined cadres, as well as strong and active structures of our movement, is the everlasting legacy of all ANC leaders.

Diko is ANC spokesperson in the Western Cape.

You May Also Like

One thought on “Baleka’s Secret Ballot: A test of ANC MPs’ political and ideological maturity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *