South Africa Watch

Storm clouds gather for South Africa’s constitution

Constitution - Copy.jpg

In a bare-fisted fight-back President Jacob Zuma is elevating the ANC constitution above that of the country as a dangerous political storm is building.

In the immediate wake of the, for him ‘win on points,’ outcome of the secret ballot motion of no-confidence vote (MONV) contest in parliament, Zuma immediately started erecting the ring for a bare-fisted come-back fight. In the process, he, and some of the helpers in his corner brought the country, its constitution, and social stability closer to a major crisis than might be generally appreciated.

He and his helpers have made it clear that, in the first round they are going after those African National Congress (ANC) parliamentarians (MPs) who voted against him – be it with a cross on the ballot paper or by abstention.

In the process, Zuma effectively elevated the ANC’s constitution to a level above that of the country’s.  On Saturday, at a meeting of a so-called cadres’ forum of the party in the Free State, punting for disciplinary action against the 30-odd ANC MPs, Zuma extensively quoted from the ANC constitution.

As justification for disciplinary action against ‘dissenting’ MPs he quoted a section that reads: "Joining or supporting a political organisation or party, other than an organisation in alliance with the ANC, in a manner contrary to the aims, objectives and policy of the ANC."

The use of this section to influence, and/or intimidate MPs, seems to be in conflict with a Constitutional Court (CC) ruling in June this year that MPs duty is first and foremost to the Constitution and not the party.

Those who are mischievously suggesting otherwise, “… are wilfully attempting to mislead the public," said Lawson Naidoo, director of the Council for the Advancement of South Africa's Constitution (Casac).

To Naidoo disciplinary action would constitute an attack on the Constitution, as much as individual MPs, especially since it was supposed to have been a secret ballot.

However, from the Zuma corner the ANC Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal has defended action against “culprits” like Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan, Mondli Gungubele and Derek Hanekom. Its chairperson, Kwazi Mshengu, saying they could be named without fear because they had publicly said they would vote with their consciences on a motion designed to "liquidate the ANC."

The hunt is on

The hunt for those who did not actively support Zuma in the MONV by voting “no” is on, and everything imaginable will be done to gather ‘evidence’ against them.

Amongst others, Free State Premier Ace Magashule and ANC Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini, have said the dissenter MPs should face consequences. This despite the CC ruling, and former ANC presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe saying that MPs should have been be able to vote according to their obligations to the Constitution without fear of censure.

Even the party’s parliamentary chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, has become a target of some of Zuma’s helpers, demanding he be removed for not delivering a better result in the MONV.

In this regard, there are ominous implications in the assertion by MP Makhosi Khoza, who has already been on the receiving end of death threats, that the “ANC hounds, are not different from the apartheid forces. In fact, they’re worse.”

Her words, however, also echo the battle building between the ANC and its alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, widely speculated to have led to some political murders in KwaZulu-Natal in recent times.

Opening round

At the Free State meeting Zuma fell back on his old conspiracy-type rhetoric, from blaming outside forces and money to saying he knew the liberation movement (as notably opposed to the country) was under attack.

He also aimed some verbal jabs at the SACP leadership, saying one of the problems was that Marxist terms were no longer in use in the country.

One should not expect that the operation ‘fight back’ will be limited to rhetoric only. The start of the opening round of the fight could in the immediate future see Zuma attempting to reassert his authority by yet another cabinet reshuffle.

In reply to a suggestion from the floor that ministers calling for his removal should be replaced, Zuma said he would only raise the matter (at the party working committee), but propose ideas on how to deal with it. He said this was his way of taking responsibility for the matter as president of the ANC.

One of the present ministers who must be contemplating alternative accommodation to his present ministerial residence, must be Higher Education Minister, and leader of the SACP, Blade Nzimande.

Besides the fact that the alliance between the ANC and SACP can hardly survive the aftermath of the on-confidence vote, how brittle unity within the party has become, is demonstrated by content and tone of deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa this past weekend.

Speaking during an OR Tambo Memorial Lecture in Soweto on Saturday, he warned that the ANC would get its money back from “a specific family,” in a thinly veiled reference to the Gupta family, closely associated with President Zuma and alleged state capture and dodgy state-owned enterprises deals.

And, it is not only on the purely political party stage that the storm clouds are building.

Labour federation Cosatu’s deputy general secretary Solly Phetoe recently told City Press plans for a national shutdown of the economy over state capture and corruption have been put in place and a formal strike notice has been submitted with Nedlac.

The SACP has resolved to support the Cosatu section 77 strike against state capture, expected to take place at the latest before the end of August.

Lesson from the past

In 2012, the ANC expelled youth league leader Julius Malema who had clashed with Zuma, and he went on to form the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is now the country’s third-largest party.

Another split in the ANC before, or shortly after its elective conference in December, is becoming an ever-stronger possibility.

However, in the context of the present battle, the dangers stretch much wider than just the ANC. It should not be missed that on Saturday, even if it was very briefly so, Zuma complained (in reference to the courts) about the country's constitutional democracy. He said that those who wrote the Constitution might have wittingly or unwittingly given South Africa's opposition parties an outlet when defeated on issues in Parliament.

Also read: Will Zuma go the Africa-way?

As the ANC is fracturing, all well-meaning members of organised civil society should remember and stay alert to the fact that within each of those factions there are key players who in the dying days of the apartheid regime, gained plenty of experience in a strategy to make a country ungovernable. 

The biggest danger is that, also from opposition ‘over reach, a situation develops that makes it possible for the Zuma faction to side-step the constitution and its system of checks-and-balances, and implement what is elsewhere described as “the Africa-way.”

Before attempting to score small political points aimed at the result from the 2019 general election, let’s first make sure we actually get to that election.

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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