President Cyril Ramaphosa will, on March 30, face his first vote of no confidence, as well as one in his cabinet, when separate motions tabled by the Democratic Alliance and the African Transformation Movement (ATM) are debated in the same sitting.
The date was confirmed on Thursday by speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
She said a secret ballot would not be allowed — a discretion that was previously successfully challenged in court by the ATM, when its request in this regard was refused by her predecessor, Thandi Modise.
The ATM tabled its motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa in February 2020 but the matter then became the subject of litigation that went all the way to the supreme court of appeal, which set aside Modise’s decision and deferred the matter back to the speaker.
The court found that Modise’s decision was undermined by irrationality because she had misunderstood, on three occasions when the same request was put to her, the discretion to consider whether allowing MPs to vote by way of secret ballot would enable them to exercise their oversight duties more effectively.
The DA tabled its motion on 14 February, during the debate on Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address, with party leader John Steenhuisen saying the president had resorted to outsourcing the task of government ministers who should be fired.
“If it is not possible for you to do right by the people of South Africa, then we will take the burden off your hands and let this house fire them for you,” he said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said she was rejecting a call by the official opposition to bar members of cabinet from casting votes on the motion, because they were first and foremost members of the legislature.
The ATM had tabled its motion on the grounds, among others, that Ramaphosa had presided over the collapse of state-owned entities and falsely promised an end to electricity load-shedding.
It holds only two seats in parliament but has links with the so-called radical economic transformation faction of the ruling party, which is opposed to Ramaphosa’s leadership. A secret ballot could have proven a political threat to the president.
The ATM argued in court papers that the current political environment was so toxic that members of the ANC could not follow their conscience in an open ballot, but would risk their careers, and possibly their lives, if they were to defy party instructions and support the motion.
A DA motion on the conflict in Ukraine and its effect on South Africa will be debated on Tuesday, 15 March.