The ANC will face its first real test in Parliament since Jacob Zuma left office when the vote to decide whether the process to remove Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane should continue as proposed by the Democratic Alliance (DA).
On the surface, the issue is a simple one: Mkhwebane has had so many court decisions go against her that her incompetence alone should make any right-thinking MP vote for the process to remove her to be allowed to reach its logical conclusion.
But the process of her removal has become a battleground for the two factions of the ruling party, and the ANC’s secretary-general Ace Magashule has wasted no time in throwing the first punch against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction.
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When the ANC’s current chairperson Gwede Mantashe was still secretary-general and the DA proposed a contentious motion (like the many motions of no confidence in former president Zuma) he always likened voting along with the opposition as being the same as surrendering “your general to enemy forces”.
This is the line that Magashule is taking right now. As it was back then, the issue at hand does not matter.
Zuma might have been a divisive figure in the ruling party but they chose to close ranks when the opposition came gunning for him. Mkhwebane’s less-than-stellar performance in office does not matter to the Magashule faction – it’s the principle of not voting with the opposition that matters to them.
Where it becomes tricky for the Ramaphosa faction is that if Magashule’s instruction that MPs vote against the process succeeds, the president’s hand will be severely weakened on all matters going forward.
Magashule’s faction has been looking for a way to let the president know that the ruling party’s centre of power does not reside with him as party or the country’s president.
The process to remove Mkhwebane thus becomes more than a simple matter of giving South Africans a more competent public protector – it becomes a battleground for the control of the ruling party and by extension, the country.
What makes matters worse for Ramaphosa is that the DA is the only significant opposition party that will vote for Mkhwebane’s removal process to continue.
The EFF has always defended her, and because they share the same interests with Magashule’s faction in wishing to keep her as a constant thorn on the president’s side, they will no doubt work really hard to ensure that the president’s faction is weakened.
A flicker of hope for South Africa’s democracy is that the likes of Fikile Mbalula have already publicly challenged Magashule by asking him where and when the decision to defend Mkhwebane was taken.
The decision to remove Mkhwebane, as were the motions of no confidence in former president Zuma, is for the country’s good and it is no secret that the fightback against the president’s faction is based on the need to protect all those who used the “wasted nine years” to line their pockets with public funds.
The likes of Mbalula and whoever else believes that the president is on higher moral ground need to get going in organising their own “tea parties” to canvass support for their own stance. It is a sad moment for the country’s democracy that incompetence in public office is not dealt with as it should but the public’s interests are sacrificed at the altar of party loyalty.
Ramaphosa himself needs to take a stand and realise that a defeat for his faction on Mkhwebane’s removal will leave his presidency on shaky ground, putting “state capturers” in firm control.