/ 25 November 2011

Rebels ‘should beware the wrath of the ANC’

While it is not clear what action the ANC will take against MPs Ben Turok and Gloria Borman for flouting the party line on the Protection of State Information Bill, history shows that those who defy the party do not last long in Parliament.

This week Turok left the chamber during the vote on the Bill, while Borman abstained. ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga had ordered ANC MPs to vote for the legislation.

On Thursday Motshekga told journalists the two MPs would be offered the opportunity to say what led them to do what they did. “And then we can say what type of action to take.”

He said there was reasonable suspicion that the code of practice in the caucus had been violated. “Of great concern is that the ANC and its leadership learned of the two MPs’ objection to the Bill through the media.

Demonstrators gathered outside Luthuli House in Johannesburg in protest of the proposed secrecy Bill on the day it comes up for voting in Parliament — a day marked as Black Tuesday.

“It is worth noting that both comrades have never raised any objection to the draft legislation in at least four caucus meetings that the ANC convened to afford all MPs an opportunity to discuss and receive clarity on the draft Bill.”

Motshekga said the leadership of the ANC in Parliament would immediately institute an investigation to establish the facts. “Should the information gathered in the investigation warrant disciplinary action, the matter will be referred to the ANC disciplinary committee.”

On Wednesday ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the conduct of “comrades” such as Turok in raising objections by abstaining and using the media smacked of ill-discipline and would be handled internally by the party.

Turok is a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle. He was an organiser of the Congress of the People in 1955 and instrumental in drafting the Freedom Charter. He currently co-chairs the ethics and members’ interests committee in Parliament.

Three current and former ANC MPs have pointed out that his senior standing in the party might count for little, as history has shown that defying the ANC in Parliament tends to cause severe career damage.

They point to former ANC MPs Andrew Feinstein and Pregs Govender, who both left Parliament shortly after defying the party.

Feinstein, who is now synonymous with the fight against the multibillion-rand arms deal, was ANC leader in the standing committee on public accounts. In January 2001 he was removed from his position by then-ANC chief whip, Tony Yengeni, after backing a parliamentary investigation into the arms procurement. Like Turok, he later walked out of the House during a vote.

Govender, who had been an MP since 1994, also openly opposed the arms deal and spoke out against it in the department of defence budget debate in the National Assembly in 2001. She was the only ANC MP to vote against the deal. She resigned in 2002 after being asked to leave.

“You are at the mercy of the person who deployed you. Life becomes uncomfortable after you defy the party,” said a former MP, now a government employee.

Another former MP said that when a number of ANC MPs “revolted” against the same-sex marriage Bill, citing their religion and morals, they were told that “nobody is a free agent. If the party takes a decision, we have to follow it.”

The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.