21/07/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 21/07/2017 03:58 SAST

The Cost Of Makhosi Khoza's Courage May Be Her Job

It will be interesting to see how many of those who have called for the president to go have the courage to vote openly against him.

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
Makhosi Khoza gestures during an interview with Reuters in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 18, 2017.

Makhosi Khoza is a courageous MP but if she defies her Whips and votes in an open vote for the opposition motion of no-confidence in President Zuma, she will shortly be looking for another job. I do not expect Baleka Mbete, the Speaker, to agree to a secret vote. She is far too compromised by her other job as ANC chairperson to ignore the obvious need for the president and the ANC to avoid the humiliation of a significant defection of their MPs in the vote.

Unless of course, the ANC expects the defection to be so embarrassingly large that they would prefer to hide the identities of the "no" voters, rather than have to take action and expel them. In this instance, the Speaker might surprise us and arrange a secret ballot. But don't count on it. I will be amazed if the so-called "conscience vote" is allowed. There is, of course, nothing forcing MPs to only follow their consciences in secret. A real conscience vote would be a proud affirmation of conscience in the interests of South Africa by voting openly against President Zuma who has clearly lost the confidence of many.

It will be interesting to see how many of those who have called for the president to go have the courage to vote openly against him as many millions of South Africans would want them to do. Here one thinks of Deputy President Ramaphosa, Minister Blade Nzimande and Deputy Minister Cronin; they have sat quietly in cabinet for years, choosing to criticise and complain and back-bite the president in private or with their friends, but never at cabinet meetings where they could have made a difference.

They have closed their eyes to the corruption, the waste, and the mismanagement that has gone on under their noses. Some of them have been Zuma praise-singers. Nzimande, only a couple of years ago called for a law to be passed to make it a criminal offence to insult the president. For people like these heavyweights, the moment of decision has arrived. Do they have the courage to vote openly against the man they are dying to see go? It could win them new respect from voters who are disgusted at the failings of the government.

Even Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said recently that the ANC government had messed up. She should know, shouldn't she? What have the heavyweights to fear? The president would certainly have to fire them as ministers and presumably replace them with more Gupta captives and nonentities, but would anyone in the ANC have the guts to fire them as members of the party, inviting a party split?

Even if Speaker Mbete surprises us all and arranges for a secret vote, I don't believe it would succeed. Remember that the ANCYL, the ANCWL, the MK Veterans and various provinces are solidly behind Zuma. There are upwards of a hundred parliamentary office holders, ministers and deputies who want their jobs to continue and they will not risk rocking the vote. Another important factor is that South Africa is not the United Kingdom or the United States of America, in those countries MPs and representatives routinely vote against the leader of their party and his or her policies.

It has always been almost unthinkable for an MP to vote against the party leader or even against any government policy or measure.

One of the reasons for Mrs May's disastrous decision to go to the polls was the vocal section of her own party that criticised and complained incessantly about her handling of Brexit as being either too hard or too soft. President Donald Trump is learning about the political realities, he promised during his campaign that he would repeal Obamacare on his first day in office. Six months into his term with majorities in both Congress and the Senate, he cannot muster a majority of Republicans to support his health care plans. South Africa is quite different in that it has always been almost unthinkable for an MP to vote against the party leader or even against any government policy or measure.

One hears constantly that our electoral system of proportional representation prevents MPs from following their consciences. I beg to differ. In a constituency system such as South Africa had before 1994, the political party controlled the nomination of the candidate and those who stepped out of line got the chop. The only people following their consciences over the decades were those about to cross the floor to another party. The reason is not far to seek.

Our country has always had what is known as a responsible party system where loyalty to the principles, the policies and the leaders of the party became the norm and the sharp ideological divisions as well as the differences of language, culture, religion have made voting for the other side seem a step too far for almost all MPs.

It will be fascinating watching parliament on 8 August.