07/08/2017 03:56 SAST | Updated 07/08/2017 10:34 SAST

Murphy Morobe: History Now Demands Action

Speaker Baleka Mbete must allow for a secret ballot.

Mike Hutchings/ Reuters
Photo: Mike Hutchings/ Reuters

South Africa is waiting anxiously for Baleka Mbete, speaker of parliament, to decide whether or not the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma will be voted on through a secret or open ballot. Rumours abound about what she might actually decide.

Formally, the processes for removing a sitting president are very clear, unambiguously stipulated in the Constitution, and there should be no debate about those. Notwithstanding the fact that there had already been seven previous motions of no confidence (remarkably involving the same person), this, the eighth one, appears to have grabbed the attention of the widest possible number of South Africans, across all sectors of the population.

Whatever the outcome, the African National Congress (ANC) will remain in stormy waters for some time to come. With its national conference around the corner, none of the outcomes of the vote of no confidence takes the ANC out of danger, especially taking into account the fact that campaigning for the 2019 general election has in effect already started.

Right now we need to ask ourselves: how did we get here? How did we get to a point where our parliamentarians are having to consider the removal from office of a sitting head of state? That this has happened under the watch of the ANC reflects on the deviations from, among other things, its deployment programmes and the degeneration of its party political life.

But all is not lost. The Mondli Gungubele's and Makhosi Khoza's represents the true ANC cadreship: standing up when faced with systemic threats to the rule of law and the undermining of the ethos and values on which the organisation was founded.

We need to rethink questions of accountability in our political system. Whereas the Constitution is clear as to who MP's are ultimately accountable to, the fact is that members are deployed by a political party (through the list system). This leaves the public representative saddled with a permanent dilemma regarding whom he or she is accountable to.

It is precisely this matter which occasions the very sharp discourse on whether the ballot should be secret or open. History is full of examples of why a secret ballot is crucial to ensure that votes will be cast in an environment free of any undue interference (at best) or intimidation (at worst).

For that reason, acceding to the request for a secret ballot should therefore come naturally for the speaker, unless of course she is driven by other motives other than those of wanting to ensure that the process cannot be impugned in any way.

So far, the sharpness of the polarity of views on this subject manifests against the backdrop of the prevalent and untenable situation where some are prepared to fight to maintain the status quo at all costs.

What is clear is that in the past 20 years there has not been any robust engagement with some of the key concepts and prescripts of our Constitution which underpin our democracy. We have now reached the point where history demands that these debates be opened so that our societal foundations and values can be reconsidered and evaluated.

We are on the road to entrenching freedom and democracy. But, as Nelson Mandela said, there are still many hills to climb.

** Morobe is a businessman. He is a former senior civil servant and was imprisoned on Robben Island for his role in the 1976 Soweto student uprisings. He also helped found the United Democratic Front.