Mbete and the Secret Ballot


One is tempted to assert that last week’s jubilation by opposition parties – after the Constitutional Court judgement that the Speaker of Parliament has the discretion to rule on a secret ballot to remove President Jacob Zuma as president of the country – was a tad premature. Since it is her discretion to either allow or not allow a secret ballot, it implies that Ms Baleka Mbete veritably holds all the aces. It is up to her to decide either way, but being somebody who has been perceived as having a somewhat close relationship with the current incumbent, it would be dangerously optimistic to expect her to allow a secret ballot vote of no confidence to remove the former.

It is not only career-limiting for her, but also tremendously dangerous for a party racked by factions and divisions as the African National Congress.

It would be career-limiting for her because she may not get a nod from the NDZ (Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma) slate which appears to be popular at the moment. She may indeed get a nod from the CR17 (Cyril Ramaphosa) slate which has distinguished itself by its protagonist condemning endemic corruption and also calling for a probe to investigate the extent of state capture. The NDZ slate (and the party) will, in the event that she sanctions a secret ballet vote of no confidence on the President, view her as having ‘sold’ not only the President but also the party. The implications of a no confidence vote conducted via a secret ballot are too ghastly to contemplate.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides as follows:

“Motions of no confidence

102 (2): If the National Assembly, by a vote of a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.”

Since a secret ballot on a motion of no confidence on the President will affect not only the President but also other members of the Cabinet, I suspect that the Speaker (who will also be affected by the way) will be wary of exercising that option. It is not as if she might be impervious to the impassioned appeals by, among others, the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, that a secret ballot should be considered on merit.

The African National Congress, as has been shown several times in their National Executive Committee meetings, is not about to rid itself of President Zuma anytime soon. Speaking at a National Union of Mineworkers meeting not too long ago, the Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said recalling President Zuma now may engender a split in the party. He went on to opine that it would be easy to recall Zuma when he is no longer president of the party. It would seem that this is the general view in the NEC and the party. One should remember that the same happened with former President Thabo Mbeki as he was recalled in 2008. He was no longer president of the party though he still led the country.

If the Speaker declines (as she is definitely likely to do) a secret ballot on a motion of no confidence, the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties will invariably consult the courts for their opinion. That eventuality will still work in the Speaker’s favour, as the court process is likely to take some time. As long as the matter will not be concluded before the elective conference in December, the Speaker, in filing a counter to any motion seeking to coerce her to hold a secret ballot on a motion of no confidence, will have played her cards right. She can still be in the good books of the NDZ campaign and earn herself a prime spot in the slate.

In essence, the issue of a secret ballot on a motion of no confidence is less about the wishes of the people of South Africa but more about personal survival not only of the Speaker but other members of the ANC. In the light of the above I make bold to say that South Africans should not have too much hope that there will be a secret ballot on a no confidence motion.