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The ANC Majority Of Hostages VS The People

What is the point of having a parliament if one man can threaten MPs to toe some imaginary line? What is the point of if coerced loyalty trumps rationale?

07/04/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 07/04/2017 03:57 SAST
SIPHIWE SIBEKO1 / Reuters
A protester looks on outside the ruling African National Congress (ANC) headquarters, during a protest against the passing of new laws on state secrets in Johannesburg, November 22, 2011.

Gwede Mantashe warned that ANC MPs risk being fired if they vote with the opposition in a motion of no confidence against Jacob Zuma. This means that the opposition's motion in parliament might be brought down by President Jacob Zuma's majority of ANC hostages.

I use the word hostages here for a reason. I'll explain.

Every member of parliament has to take an oath of office to be sworn in. The oath in no way compels such an MP to vote as instructed by his party. However, the oath does ask an MP to swear or solemnly affirm that he will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, that he will obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other law of the Republic, and to perform his functions as a member of the National Assembly to the best of his ability.

In other words, an MP takes an oath to act in the best interests of South Africans; not in the best interests of his party. The country always comes first.

Now, there seems to be a lot of confusion in the public as to how much power a party should have over their MPs in parliament, which I hope our courts will clear up. Obviously, MPs have to promote their parties' policies, designed for the good of the nation, and attempt to influence proposed bills in such a way that these policies might be reflected therein. Therefore, it would be safe to assume most MPs would have an agreed upon agenda with every issue being discussed in parliament.

But may an MP be threatened if he disagrees with his party's agenda?

One would hope not. One would hope that robust debate will take place within party structures to convince this MP that the party knows best. Alternatively, the member might have such a strong argument that he might convince the rest of the party to change their minds. And if there is still disagreement, one would hope such an MP will be allowed to perform his duty as he sees fit, whether his party supports him or not. Because he took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the country, whichever way he might interpret it. It's on his conscience.

That is how I always assumed a democracy works.

Therefore, it came as a surprise when the ANC secretary general warned their MPs that a vote with their conscience will cost them their jobs. This would be the same as my boss threatening to fire me if I don't vote for a deduction in my salary.

The moment you get threats you get intimidation, and the last time I looked intimidation was still a crime in this country, clearly prohibited by the Intimidation Act 72 of 1982.

As far as my logic goes, threats negate rationale, therefore there cannot be an agreement between people. The moment you get threats you get intimidation, and the last time I looked intimidation was still a crime in this country, clearly prohibited by the Intimidation Act 72 of 1982.

So why are we allowing this? Don't we apply laws in this country anymore?

The Constitutional Court already decided that ANC MPs failed to uphold their constitutional obligations once before. I'm of course referring to the Nkandla judgement. Now the ANC plans to do it again.

Let's face it, democracy has flown out the window at Luthuli House. Luckily, we are still some way from a dictatorship. What we have now is merely a kakistocracy, which is a government run by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. And yes, that is an actual word that you can look up.

But there is still hope. All that needs to be done is to get some clarity from our courts, and I really hope they can help us here. One would hope the opposition will ask the following question: Is it in any way legal to recall or to fire MPs who vote for the good of their country ahead of the good of their party?

What is the point of having a parliament if one man can threaten an entire caucus to toe some imaginary line? What is the point of having debates if coerced loyalty trumps rationale?

Again I would point out that I can understand if parties need consensus among their MPs. I have no problem with that. But it has to be reached through robust debate. I don't think we should allow political parties to ever demand compliance from their MPs through threats.

Yes, our democracy is still young and some of us might still have some trouble understanding how democracy actually works. But people like Gwede Mantashe and Jacob Zuma should at least have a basic idea that what they are doing in their own party is fundamentally undemocratic.

In a democracy people should be allowed to disagree. In a democracy people should be allowed to vote for what they believe in. To threaten the livelihood of members of parliament if they don't vote how you tell them to vote is surely an attack on the constitutionality of parliament.

These MPs should be protected, and it is my firm belief that our courts should be approached to rule on this to strengthen our democratic institutions.