I’ll be the first to acknowledge I didn’t see this one coming.
Even while Baleka Mbete was building up to her surprise announcement about the secret ballot – and coughing and spluttering ahead of her deep slug on that glass of water to ensure it came out right – I remained confident she would announce the National Assembly ballot would be taken openly, just as it had been seven times before.
(I’ll admit I was a little disappointed, at that point, that she didn’t whip out a ventriloquist’s dummy while she was drinking the water to have it give the announcement, but that’s just me).
Mbete’s decision to go the secret ballot route must rank right up there with some of the biggest political surprises of my life – about on the same level as the day Donald J Trump won the US election and Britain voted for a Brexit.
The assumption has always been that, if the vote is secret, then President Jacob Zuma is bound to be voted out.
That’s still a very big – too big – assumption.
The results of a casual poll on this website suggested that 46% of our readers feel Zuma should not be removed by the National Assembly, as that would be tantamount to “regime change”.
That’s nonsense, by the way, since the ANC will still be the governing party and an ANC MP will be the next president – but that’s still how a large group of people voted.
The same percentage said Zuma and the Guptas just need to go, one way or the other.
All we know for sure is the likelihood of Zuma now being voted out is far greater than it’s ever been.
This secret ballot represents the clearest opportunity yet for the ANC to free itself of the filth and have another year and a half or so to try to clear away the stink before the next general election.
If they take this opportunity, it’s one I don’t think they deserve. Even so, the reality is that a clean and decent ANC is something many of us were always dreaming about and hoping for. It’s not something we were ever granted, and we’ve come to expect only the worst.
It would be nice if, somehow, we could get the ANC we were promised, if only in honour of some of the personal sacrifices of icons such as Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo and Walter and Albertina Sisulu.
Zuma is good for opposition business, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the DA and EFF secretly vote to keep him anyway.
If he stays, for whatever cause, then the smugness that is our president will know no bounds. There will never be another no-confidence motion and Zuma will plough forward secure in the knowledge that he is pretty indestructible. It will no doubt strengthen the bid of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and ensure that the project of state capture runs its disgusting course.
The more cynical among us may even theorise that Zuma is somehow even behind this secret ballot decision for these very reasons.
I strongly doubt that though. Zuma is not a gambling man. He doesn’t even drink. He likes to be certain of his future, which is why he’s always moved quickly to remove any NPA boss who’s so much as suggested he might have an appetite to prosecute him. So, right now, I happen to think Zuma is not a happy man and he will have a restless night.
Good. Thanks for that, Baleka. He deserves far worse than a bad night’s sleep, even though I still think a secret ballot is ultimately a bad thing for democracy and holding public servants to account.
But let’s look ahead and try to see the bright side. At least now there’s nothing stopping cowardly ANC MPs from doing the right thing. That means the stakes for what will happen tomorrow have gotten unimaginably higher.
All we can do now is hope – against the grain and most of recent history – that something good may finally happen to this poor, bruised and beaten South Africa that has always deserved so much better.