The current contentious nature of the requested secret ballot voting in a motion of no confidence against President Cyril Ramaphosa could have been avoided, had the National Assembly handled the issue better.
This is according to president of the African Transformation Movement (ATM), Vuyolwethu Zungula, who said that a tedious back and forth has taken place since February this year – more than a month before the country went into hard lockdown due to Covid-19.
Zungula told The Citizen that National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise’s handling of the party’s request to vote by secret ballot in the no-confidence motion was “disturbing”.
“Things could have been worked out much earlier. We kept asking for an email trail about the letter, and who it would have been sent to, but they didn’t have that information. We asked if it was hand delivered, and they don’t have that either.
“The biggest contention in the motion is not the timing, but the matter of voting.”
Zungula said that despite the ATM sending their letter requesting a motion of no confidence against Ramaphosa on 6 February, and reminding Modise in September to respond urgently, it only received correspondence on 26 November.
This gave the party roughly one week to respond to a letter Modise’s office sent to the party on 5 March, which was only received last week.
“From last Thursday until now, this is very little time for us to effectively argue internal processes on the secret ballot. Had we known in March, this would not have happened.”
Secret ballot request
This is especially relevant because the secret ballot request in the motion was stipulated in their first communications to Modise, Zungula said.
In a debate held by the National Assembly programme committee on the ATM’s proposal, which took place on 26 November, Modise rejected that the motion be voted on through a secret ballot. She cited Section 1(d) of the Constitution, which states openness as “a fundamental principle for our democracy”.
She also said the ATM “had not offered any evidence of a highly charged atmosphere or intimidation of any members in the motivation for their request”.
Zungula begged to differ.
He referenced ANC members burning t-shirts emblazoned with Ramaphosa’s face in Bloemfontein, and MPs were present.
Zungula also explained that the nature of democracy in South Africa was currently in a dangerous space, with political killings and attempted poisonings being just some examples.
“There is a great risk when it comes to MPs openly voting. There is also the issue of opposition parties receiving financial benefits from the ANC. This means they aren’t going to be independent and play an oversight role in keeping the executive accountable.”
In addition, Zungula questioned why a president was voted in to power via secret ballot, “yet when we are voting out a president, it’s an open ballot”.
“The only logical method of voting [in the motion of no confidence] has to be secret.”
Lack of support from opposition parties
Opposition parties have expressed reluctance in supporting the ATM’s motion.
The DA confirmed it would not be supporting the motion of no confidence, even though the party did not necessarily agree with how Ramaphosa has handled South Africa’s economic woes, IOL reported on Monday.
Similarly, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said it would be voting against the motion.
He said the issue of an open ballot did play a role in opposition parties not wanting to support the motion.
“When it’s a secret ballot, they will not be under pressure to go in a particular direction. It is always good for people to vote with their conscience.”
Zungula affirmed that allowing a secret ballot meant politicians could vote in the interest of South Africans first, “with no fear from benefits”.
This alluded once again to Ramaphosa’s alleged financial influence in ensuring parties “toe that line”, and that this hindered a party’s ability to be a “defender of our democracy and champion the interests of our people”.
“This year poses a bigger responsibility for us all. People are poorer and unemployed, and as the trend continues, the higher the chance is of being a failed state, and future generations will suffer.”
Zungula said the ATM’s decision had not been a popular one, and that the party has been accused of “playing politics”.
“But the reality is that many people see what is happening but don’t have a voice or aren’t bold enough to confront the real elephant in the room – that Ramaphosa hasn’t done anything positive for South Africa.
“For political leaders, especially oppositions, to run away, isn’t going to do anything good for our country.”
Zungula confirmed that the ATM had approached the courts to have the no-confidence motion ballot made secret.
We are going to Court !!!!
— Vuyo Zungula MP ???????? (@ZungulaVuyo) November 30, 2020
This meant that despite the motion of no confidence via open ballot being approved by the National Assembly, the courts’ decision could extend the motion, which is due to take place on Thursday.
Updates to follow as more information is made available.