Mbete in hot water over secret ballot choice

ANC chairperson and National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete could face sanction from her own party for allowing the motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma to be conducted by secret ballot.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that the ANC’s top brass, particularly those in Zuma’s camp, are furious with Mbete for her secret ballot decision and want her to explain herself to the party’s top six and its national working committee (NWC).

Mbete did not attend this week’s top six and NWC meetings — which came a week after more than 25 ANC MPs voted in favour of the Democratic Alliance’s motion of no confidence against Zuma. ANC leaders who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity said Mbete deliberately dodged the meeting for fear of being verbally attacked by fellow party members.

An NWC member who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity this week said Mbete’s decision to allow the motion to be conducted by secret ballot came as a shock to the ANC leadership.

“That [the secret ballot decision] was not an ANC decision. It was the speaker’s decision on her own. It was taken in her capacity as speaker [of the National Assembly] and not as an ANC leader. It was not even supported by any of the top six members,” said the NWC member.

“I would really want to understand how she came to that conclusion and her reasoning for granting the secret ballot. We expected to get that in the meeting this week. But I was as surprised as the rest of the officials; none of us expected it. As the ANC, we thought she would [agree] with the SG [secretary general Gwede Mantashe] saying it should be open.”

The senior ANC leader said Mbete needed to explain her decision and her thinking when she allowed the motion to be conducted through secret ballot.

“That is something that will happen at the very next meeting of the NWC. It’s a matter we are all keen to get her views on,” said the NWC member.

Mbete said her decision, which was announced a day before the motion of no confidence, was in line with the Constitutional Court ruling that confirmed that the speaker of Parliament had the power to decide whether the vote could be done by a secret ballot.

On Thursday, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa dismissed suggestions that Mbete had snubbed the top six and NWC meetings because she feared censure. He said she had apologised for not being able to attend the meetings owing to prior commitments.

Kodwa said the ANC leadership expected Mbete to explain her decision to the party’s top structures as soon as she was available. The two meetings this week could not discuss the secret ballot issue in her absence 
as this would be unfair to her, said Kodwa.

“The officials have agreed that we can’t have that discussion in the absence of the speaker, in this instance the chair. We don’t want to be unfair to our speaker or the chair. If you want to be objective and fair, you have to discuss it when she is there. The question was asked whether we should not be discussing her decision, but it was decided that in her absence it would be unfair,” he said.

He said the party needed to reflect on what was behind some ANC MPs’ decision to vote with the opposition rather than embarking on a witch-hunt.

“The bigger debate which we must still have and could not have in the NWC is what is the self-reflection of what happened …politically. Part of the reflection would be the [secret ballot] decision itself. Was it an informed decision? Was it in line with the ConCourt [Constitutional Court]?” said Kodwa. He said ANC leaders should not isolate Mbete when discussing the issue.

“We can’t have that isolated discussion. We must still have a discussion about what informed some of our MPs to vote with the opposition, not in a simplistic and a narrow manner that they simply followed their conscience. That’s why we said we are not going to go on a witch-hunt. We can’t go around and say to people: ‘You smell like you voted with this or that.’

“We not going to do a lie detector [test]. We cannot degenerate to that level. That’s why we said, let’s talk to those who were bold enough and spoke out even after the voting. The essence of organisation is discipline,” said Kodwa.

Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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