The ANC national executive committee has overruled the decision of its parliamentary caucus to block a motion of no confidence debate on President Jacob Zuma. The decision reveals that those who believe Zuma should be supported unconditionally by the ANC do not have as much traction as they imagine. The ANC has also lambasted Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, declaring him “outright rude” for trying to strong-arm ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe into rejecting nomination to stand against Zuma.
The past weekend was the last meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) for the term 2007-2012 before the party’s much-anticipated national conference in Mangaung in December. Apart from a wide range of housekeeping matters relating to the conference, the ANC, somewhat surprisingly, dealt with the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma proposed by eight opposition parties in Parliament.
(Unsurprisingly it did not discuss further revelations in the weekend press on the renovations to the president’s rural home at Nkandla and the “spy tapes” relating to Zuma’s corruption trial.)
On Wednesday last week, the ANC caucus in Parliament vowed to block a DA-led opposition attempt to have a motion of no confidence in Zuma’s presidency debated in the National Assembly. The motion was brought on the grounds that “under his leadership the justice system has been politicised and weakened; corruption has spiralled out of control; unemployment continues to increase, the economy is weakening, and the right of access to quality education has been violated.”
A few days later, the ANC used its majority to prevent the motion from being scheduled by the National Assembly’s programming committee which sets the agenda of Parliament.
ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga said it would be a “complete travesty and an unsustainable precedent to allow a frivolous motion, which was based solely on spurious allegations rather than facts, to be afforded the dignity of consideration and debate by Parliament.”
“The motion by these opposition parties, which they know as anyone else its chances of success are zero, seeks to try the president in a court of public opinion and tarnish his image and that of the ANC in the media. If these opposition parties want a president of their choice, they should wait for the elections in 2014; we will be ready to contest them,” Motshekga said.
The DA on Friday launched an application for an interdict on the matter in the Western Cape High Court, seeking an order compelling Parliament to hold a debate on a vote of no confidence in Zuma before Parliament rises for the year. The matter is to be heard on Tuesday, but the last sitting of the National Assembly will be on Thursday, not giving the opposition much time to force the issue on the parliamentary schedule even if they win the case.
Briefing reporters on Monday on the outcomes of the NEC meeting, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe the committee received a report on the motion of no confidence but stated, rather surprisingly, “We are happy that the ANC in Parliament has not refused to discuss the motion.”
“The question we are dealing with here is not refusal but a programming issue. We agree with our parliamentary caucus that there is no urgency on the matter,” Mantashe said.
This is, however, not what Motshekga said, as his argument was that the motion was “frivolous” motivated by a “desire for cheap publicity”.
It emerged in weekend reports that the ANC’s political committee in Parliament, chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, had decided that the motion of no confidence should be allowed to be debated.
However the committee’s decision was overturned by the ANC caucus.
Now it appears that the NEC has reversed the caucus decision.
Asked whether the NEC was effectively overturning its caucus decision, thereby invalidating the strong statements of its chief whip opposing the debate, Mantashe said he could only report on ANC decisions and could not account for what other people might have said on the issue.
He said all the ANC’s members playing a leadership role in Parliament, including Motshekga and Max Sisulu, were at the NEC meeting when the matter was debated. He said the ANC agreed that the debate should not be refused but that it was not urgent. This effectively means that the ANC will accede to debate the motion of no confidence when Parliament resumes next year.
But the ANC’s hand might have been forced: Daily Maverick sources say that Sisulu expressed his concern to the NEC that legal advice he had sought found that the caucus decision to block the debate was effectively illegal. Other NEC members, including Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom, told the meeting that by blocking the debate the ANC was essentially saying it had no confidence in the Zuma presidency, and therefore no debate should be allowed.
Mantashe condemned the opposition parties for taking the matter to court. “We believe in the sanctity, independence and jurisdiction of Parliament, which has to be protected by all citizens including political parties... By taking a purely parliamentary programming matter to court, the opposition is reducing Parliament to a subsidiary of the judiciary and thereby impeding the legislative independence of Parliament,” he said.
The DA announced on Monday evening that it would proceed with its court action on Tuesday despite the NEC decision.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the ANC’s announcement that the party was not opposed to the motion of no confidence being debated, and that its concern was merely over it receiving precedence, was in complete contradiction to the position expressed by Motshekga.
“This backtracking is not unexpected given the unconstitutional approach taken by Dr Motshekga. It is worth noting however that international precedent, and the very nature of the motion of no confidence itself, provides for this debate to be urgently tabled. To not allow for this to happen will result in the motion falling off the order paper at the end of the year. This will effectively block the debate, and in doing so, undermine the Constitutional provision which gives effect to it,” Mazibuko said.
The NEC decision however relaxes the belief in the ANC leadership that Zuma should be defended at all costs. The crusade to defend Zuma, who is presently engulfed in controversy, is feeding neatly into his campaign for a second term as ANC president. This has led to some structures of the alliance, such as Cosatu and the Umkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) going as far as threatening Motlanthe not to accept nomination for the position of ANC president.
On Sunday, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini said the federation wanted to meet with Motlanthe to warn him not to contest Zuma’s position, even if ANC branches had nominated him. (According to protocol in the alliance, the ANC, SACP and Cosatu do not interfere in each other’s electoral processes. Dlamini’s statement was therefore a clear breach of the protocol.)
Asked what the ANC’s reaction was to Dlamini’s statements, Mantashe revealed that the Cosatu president had been at the ANC headquarters on Monday morning and had faced a dressing down from the party leadership.
“It is rude to think you can take over and steam ahead… it is outright rude and totally unacceptable. It is bordering on despising the ANC.
Comrade S’dumo was wrong,” Mantashe said.
Mantashe also said that the MKMVA had also been taken to task by the ANC leadership for threatening Motlanthe not to stand.
The ANC, it seems, has been forced to come to its senses that it cannot steamroll the Constitution and the rules of Parliament to protect its president. It is also probably alive to the fact that its stance to defend Zuma at all costs is not sustainable and could lead to others being prejudiced, including its deputy president.
While Zuma remains the man to beat at Mangaung, the ANC’s decision to allow the vote of no confidence in Parliament is bound to unleash debate in the party about his leadership of the state. But the extra time the ANC has bought for this debate also might allow Zuma’s detractors in and outside the ANC more space to mount a more effective attack.
Most disturbingly, there is another pattern visible from the political events that have dominated the news in recent months: a clear tactic of attempting to kick the alliance’s mounting troubles far into the future.
In September, Cosatu’s congress re-elected the same leadership and avoided debating the painful issues, for fear they would cause a mortal rupture in the federation’s fibre. It also expressed its support for ANC status quo in the shape of keeping most of the ANC’s current leadership.
After the Cosatu congress even organisations previously dismissive of Zuma, like Numsa, expressed support for the ANC’s current president.
And although for a while it looked as though all the delayed, difficult debates and decisions were to take place at the Mangaung conference, it becomes more and more obvious that “don’t rock the boat or we all go down” is to be Zuma’s re-election call. The nightmare in which the ANC effectively freezes everything for the duration of Zuma’s probable second term may soon be a reality. The cruel irony, of course, is that the country is desperately in need of decisive leadership and a quantum leap forward.