Making sense of the ANC support of the DA motion that paves the way for an official Public Protector Inquiry

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

A Choice That Vibrates Many Discursive Narratives –

On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, the DA-led motion with the aim of the eventual removal of the incumbent public protector Advocate Mkhwebane served in parliament. During a National Assembly sitting on Tuesday, 275 MPs voted in support of the motion and 40 members objected.

Parliament has voted in support of a motion to institute an inquiry to decide on the fitness of the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. The history of what transpired with this vote must be traced back to the original claims of the DA which was followed-up by the appointment of an independent panel of legal experts given effect to by the Speaker of the Assembly Thandi Modise. The panel concluded its work in 2020 and submitted its report to the Speaker. Such a report based on what the panel determined as prima facie evidence recommended that opportunity is provided for the Public Protector to explain herself to the National Assembly concerning allegations levelled against her. Needless to say the Rules which were written specifically for Advocate Mkhwebane sees to the Speaker entertaining the Panel’s report in the plenary of the National Assembly thus taking a majority decision to refer the independent report to a multi-party parliamentary committee to be appointed by the Speaker and formed in line with Section 194 of the RSA Constitution to enables the conducting of an enquiry.

Those in the ANC who defend the decision remonstrate if the ANC as the party voted against the referral of the panel report to a Parliamentary Committee, it would have directly pitted the ANC as opposing the National Assembly Rules and procedures it developed and equally voted for as facilitated by the Rules Committee. Yet the counter-argument is the very rules referred to were drafted and produced with the specific aim of dealing with the incumbent Public Protector.

What happened yesterday in the ANC’s parliamentary virtual vote warrants unpacking. The many narratives vibrating in this singular act simply cannot be ignored, not only do we again see how COVID-19 is abused to attain a specific outcome for the choice of the system adopted to vote and means to arrive at it. Claims of members threatened with disciplinary hearings are also emerging. Cabinet members were promised a swift reshuffle if they stayed away or voted any other way. It is also claimed that if any of the members of parliament had indicated their interest to proffer a different vote than what was instructed by Mantashe, they would have been escorted out by security from their offices since they would have been dealt with swiftly.

We also observe an ANC Secretary-General that increasingly appears sidelined and undermined by those some in the National Office Bearers team. Claims of ANC RET faction loses first parliamentary showdown after Mkhwebane impeachment vote, The DA leading, and the ANC as is now custom always playing catch up. Beyond any doubt, the factional lines are deeper, and unity is not even a mirage anymore but wholly evaporated in the personality interest of a president and his ongoing CR17 cabal. What is not lost in the translation is the reality that the PP is under scrutiny not for all her work but for key cases that fingered Ramaphosa, Gordhan, the SARB among others. We hear the re-echoing of Steenhuisen’s statement of a willingness to share in coalition with Ramaphosa but not with DD Mabuza. It is crystal clear that Mkhwebane’s appetite to investigate the CR17 campaign funding stirred the ire of all attached to CR17.   Thus, the Public Protector must fall because she dared to touch the holy grail.

ANC Women’s League Secretary-General Meokgo Matuba is on record to have responded in reciting of Mantashe’s earlier stance in a different epoch, “No army in the world allows its soldiers to be commanded by the enemy general, Therefore, we don’t expect any member of the ANC to take marching orders from the DA benches regarding this motion” MKMVA has expressed similar sentiments.

Did Mantashe instruct MP’s to vote?

The urgent caucus meeting of the ANC in this instance took place at 1 pm and preceded the actual ‘vote’ which ultimately produced a yes for the DA motion. We learn this must have been one of the shortest meetings conducted in ANC caucus sessions. The chief whip Pemmy Majodina convened the gathering and immediately introduced Chairperson Gwede Mantashe who was unequivocal in his instruction  MP’s to vote  YES for the motion. Upon conclusion of Mantashe’s instructions members were told, you now have received your marching orders and the meeting was called to an end. Mantashe thus ordered the ANC caucus to support the vote to institute the process to Mkhwebane inquiry’. Insiders present in the meeting confirmed that Mantashe instructed ANC MP’s to vote for the inquiry using the caveat that this was not yet a vote for the removal of the PP but a process to that end. This instruction of Mantashe in his new capacity of Chairperson is in direct contradiction to that issued by the Secretary-General Ace Magashule a few days earlier in which he unequivocally stated the ANC’s MP’s will not vote with the enemy. Interesting enough this articulation is not new since it was Mantashe who in his previous position ventilated the same during a time when the DA brought another frivolous motion of no confidence against Zuma.

Let us hear Mantashe in his own words, “There will be no ANC member who will vote in either way for a motion of the opposition. That would be uncharacteristic of the ANC DSG the motion of no confidence in [About former President Zuma} the ANC must move for it; it would be the ANC pushing for it than members can vote for it. There is no motion of no confidence of the ANC, we have a party political system, we are members of the ANC in a party political system and we will not vote against the ANC. No army respecting itself allow its foot soldiers by an enemy army general, nowhere in the world. To expect the ANC to  have its foot soldiers to be commanded by everybody is actually a myth.” [sic]

We not sure why Mantashe and not the Secretary-General gave the marching orders for the vote. From its historical context, the ANC Chairperson is a ceremonial position created at a time to accommodate Oliver R. Tambo who had served the movement perhaps for the longest period of presidential leadership. It is interesting how in this epoch this position with Mantashe assume almost a final authority directly associated with the bullish Mantashe who has become the number one protector of a weak Ramaphosa.

What defined the Actual Voting?

In the aftermath of the vote, some blame the COVID-19 system of voting.   , It becomes important to engage how this vote was secured. A recollection of the votes would suggest that 62 ANC Members of parliament absconded from this DA-led motion.  that the ANC for reasons only known to those who addressed the Caucus. Pemmy  Majodina voted in bulk on behalf of all ANC members of parliament. It also is a myth to claim that members voted for themselves instead of bulk- voting which details a single member of the ANC Ms Mahambehlala cast the party vote. It thus means being present in the meeting automatically transferred to a yes vote. can be accepted that being present in the meeting counted for  a yes vote automatically

Was the ANC SG Undermined?

On March 7, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was emphatic, “The ANC will not vote with the enemy” this was the message to ANC MP’s ahead of Parliamentary entertaining of the Independent Report on the justification for such an enquiry. .  Following Magashule’s instruction, some NEC members like Derek Hanekom took to Twitter to vent their disregard for that instruction. Magashule as Secretary-General attests a side-lined and undermined SG in the ANC. It is not the first time that we have seen his powers and function curtailed if not overruled. We saw how Ramaphosa on more than one occasion post-NEC meetings determined to usurp the standard role of the SG to give his statement of the NEC meeting. This happened on the Land issue among others. Strangely the last NEC meeting which had not gone Ramaphosa’s way as it relates to the step-aside recommendations,  saw him being silent. Now we see again the Chairperson Mantashe leading the undermining of the Secretary-General position something we all know a bullish Mantashe would never have entertained while he was SG. What sits behind this political gerrymandering and machinations? It is argued the SG was paying homage and respect to the Zulu Royal family in Kwa- Zulu Natal and thus was not in attendance in Cape Town at the caucus.

Yet,  to argue the SG was undermined is to not appreciate that on Monday, March 15 the NOB’s met to discuss the report and it was agreed that the line was as Mantashe articulated, we, therefore, can only surmise that Magashule’s absence was informed by him not agreeing with the adopted stance.

What did the presence of Ramaphosa and Mashatile in attendance mean and convey?

Although Mantashe was the only one who spoke in the caucus meeting, the presence of President Ramaphosa (in his capacity as ANC President), and ANC Treasurer General, Paul Mashatile, for some marks a very deliberate intent. It is for some experienced as conveying the message to MP’s that Mantashe was talking with the authority of the National Office Bearers (NOB’s) of the ANC, and in the face of the glaring absence of the Secretary-General, that Magashule’s earlier statement that no ANC MP should vote for a DA Motion, was overruled. The message was very clear that Magashule had lost when the matter of voting for the DA motion was discussed by the National Office Bearers. Their presence thus, also had a menacing and intimidatory value, in that MP’s were made to understand that to defy the instruction delivered by Mantashe, and backed up by the National Office Bearers through the presence of the President and Treasurer General, would be severely career-limiting for them. We must remember that by the time the caucus convened, President Ramaphosa had already made sure that it was known to MP’s that cabinet ministers had been told that if they did not comply to toe the line they will be reshuffled. Can the case thus be made that Ramaphosa leads by intimidation and blackmail if not bullying and the threat of a reshuffle?

Is this the first seedlings of the ANC and DA coalition?

A few weeks ago I penned an article “A Stellenbosch/Brenthurst mRNA vaccine hybrid ANC/DA coalition plan for SA governance with Ramaphosa and Madonsela as the presidential team in his second term” in such I argued, in such I said, in a season where we are bombarded with debates, accusations of expired COVID-19 vaccines and dosages arriving in dribs-and-drabs we are preoccupied with the obvious, namely our health and safety.

Yet Stellenbosch and Brenthurst long got their vaccine shots and is hardly occupied with the physical vaccines but the machinations of delivering a proverbial mRNA vaccine which is designed to alter the DNA of the ANC once and for all. They hard at work on the not so obvious for the non-discerning eye, meaning the actual realigning of the political power reality in SA.  Then we heard the Steenhuisen salvo, for those who didn’t believe my reading they had to wait until another publication where Stellenbosch academic community complained as to how much is invested by Johan Rupert to have  Thuli Madonsela for an ANC presidential campaign to Ramaphosa’s running mate for a second term. The Webinar hosted on the 28th of February though sparsely attended was entitled ‘In Conversation with Women Ready to Lead in 2030’ is cited as the Public relations campaign engineered by Rupert and his associated. Madonsela is accused of abusing ANC Veteran Sophie De Bruyn for narrow selfish interest.

Finally,  the eyes of some in the ANC went open, they could see that we are not busy with conspiracy theories, because we unraveled the actual deal Stellenbosch with its political party the DA was having with Cyril Ramaphosa to redefine the political economy of SA. When we see the ANC today voting with the DA in this attempt of removing the Public Protector it must be understood against this context of the role of Stellenbosch who now under Ramaphosa controls both the DA and the ANC. 

Is it not interesting that despite some ANC members have written to the ANC, the ANC president until now has not once spoken to condemn DA leader Steenhuisen? It may make all sense when you realise that it was Steenhuisen who advised Ramaphosa not to quit when the Independent News storm about his infidelities with young girls featured and he was reconsidering to quit. Does this not point to much more than an accidental statement on the part of Steenhuisen?

What is undeniable the ANC does not lead anything meaningful; it certainly does not direct any key theme in the national discourse, that space was long taken by the opposition in particular the DA. The ANC merely re-echoes what the DA determines as a national agenda item and is thus a follower instead of the leader of society as it so often advances. 

In the end, we must ask, why is Ramaphosa so obsessed to have the Public Protector removed that he is even willing the threaten cabinet members.

This vote for the establishment of a committee to lead a public enquiry into the fitness of the Public Protector is the first salvo in which the factions will weigh in. We must wait and see if those who remain opposed to this  DA-led motion will force a second round.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA