No Confidence Watch

Zuma debate will be a tester for SA democracy


The parliamentary vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma is shaping up to be a decider for the future of democracy in South Africa, and political stability in the country.

And, much more ride on the debate and actual vote – be it an open or secret one – than just the question whether Zuma will be removed from the parliamentary podium as head of the state.

Not only could it mean the beginning of the final end of the governing alliance, but the leading African National Congress (ANC) is likely to descend into dangerous chaos – even if only some the members of its parliamentary caucus vote against its leader.

How dangerous a situation this can trigger, is illustrated by the developments surrounding senior ANC MP and chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration, Makhosi Khoza, who has publicly called on Zuma to step down. Death threats followed and some ANC formations are calling for her “to be disciplined.”

Expect the same to happen to people like ex-minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, who has already indicated that he will be voting according to the dictates of his conscience.

The only formation of the alliance where there has thus far been some semblance of contingency planning for whatever the outcome of the present factional battle in the alliance is the South African Communist Party (SACP) at its just concluded national conference.

It took a formal decision to contest future elections off its own independent bat. However, for the present, SACP members in parliament and in cabinet – including most of its top leadership - hold those positions under the Constitution as members of the ANC.

Should they vote for the motion of no confidence, contrary to ANC instructions, and be ‘disciplined’ by revocation of their ANC membership, they will lose their seats, and the cabinet, and a good number of parliamentary committees (where some of them hold key positions) will be destabilised – creating new platforms for factional battles.

Uncertainty to deepen

However, as far as the SACP is concerned, all options are open, despite its congress’ resolutions.

In presenting, and explaining the implications of those resolutions, the leadership of the SACP – in a typical SACP flood of rhetoric – ‘mapped’ the way forward in formulations broad enough for a proverbial ten-tonne truck to easily make a U-turn in.

In short, all possibilities are still open, and political uncertainty has rather deepened and is likely to intensify.

However, in the meantime, indicative of the rising tensions in the alliance – and by extension in the ANC itself – the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) demanded that the ANC membership of some top SACP members should be revoked.

Depending on how SACP MPs and people like Mr Gordhan behave during the no confidence debate, and vote, such ‘cleaning-up’ demands could intensify – fracturing the ANC and the wider political landscape even further.

To the SACP situation can be added increasing rumours of a possible breakaway from the ANC by those who want to escape the contamination of the corruption which became the defining factor of the present administration.

Some recent reports had it that some SACP members were floating the idea of joining a new party led by present deputy-ANC president and of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa -post the December ANC elective conference should the Zuma faction win the day.

Notwithstanding how the final run-up to, and the confidence vote itself plays out, it will increase the likelihood of a split within the ANC. A win-win-situation for all ANC factions has become nigh impossible.

Changing political landscape

To what extent the political landscape is changing, and underling the importance of the no confidence vote, it is said that the SACP leadership was surprised by the level of support at its congress for the idea that the party should independently contest elections. This might, in part, also explain the nifty footwork in attempting to define the road ahead, afterwards.

What was intended to be a mandate for a possible future changed relationship with the ANC, turned out to become just about an instruction by the congress to do so. Against this background, some more nifty footwork might be called for, come August 8, and probably the most important political parliamentary debate post 1994.

For SACP MPs, it might just turn out to be a moment of truth to choose membership of which party, SACP or ANC, is the more important.

In terms of the present elective system they chose to represent the ANC in parliament. However, morally they represent voters belonging to SACP, whom thus far were asked to vote for the ANC.

 It is those voters that made it possible for them to become members of parliament, and according to their own audited signed-up membership figures of close to 300 000, it is a substantial proportion of the voting public.

In a research note to clients last week, Stef Terblanche of Africa-International Communications, argue that these figures indicate the possibility, if 2016 local election voting patterns continue, the SACP on its own, could become the third largest party in parliament in 2019.

This reality could, maybe should, weigh heavy on the minds of SACP MPs when deciding how to conduct themselves during the vote of no confidence. It also has some serious implications for the ANC.

According to Terblanche’s calculations, the ANC’s share in parliamentary seats could be reduced to under 48% and the SACP claiming 6% plus or 25 seats in parliament, which would put it on par with the Economic Freedom Fighters present position.

This would open the door for a number of permutations and possibilities for coalitions, and alliances nationally and at provincial level.

Predictions at this stage, however, are subject to so many variables that it could hardly amount to more than guess-work, or wishful thinking in some instances.

However, the no confidence debate, and -vote on 8 August might bring the first firm indication of how one could expect the political winds to blow in the 18 months or so ahead.

In the meantime, there will be some side-show dramas, like the EFF which has already prepared legal papers for a court case against Speaker Baleka Mbete, should she decide not to allow a secret ballot.

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