Baleka Mbete speaks out on secret ballot for the first time

As the crunch vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma looms, Speaker Baleka Mbete breaks her silence on her secret-vote dilemma

BY THABO MOKONE, MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA, QAANITAH HUNTER AND BABALO NDENZE
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete will decide tomorrow whether to allow a secret ballot in the vote on Tuesday’s much-anticipated motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

Breaking her silence on the issue for the first time in weeks, Mbete told the Sunday Times yesterday that she was still agonising over what to do but denied that she was employing delaying tactics to avoid a possible court challenge by opposition parties.

“You don’t wish to be me, it’s a difficult place to be. It’s what Sotho people call kgomo ya moshate [damned if you do, damned if you don’t],” Mbete said of the immense pressure she is under.

Opposition parties say they are ready to go to court if Mbete refuses to allow a secret ballot, which the Constitutional Court has said she has the power to do.

As the ANC’s national chairwoman, party loyalty will be a factor in her decision. Complicating matters is that she is said to have presidential ambitions herself – and would automatically immediately become president for up to 30 days if the no-confidence vote succeeds.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said Mbete often buckled under pressure when confronted with tough situations and always chose to side with the ANC. He said he did not expect her to allow a secret vote.

“I’ve never thought that Baleka is interested in protecting the constitution. I’ve always known that Baleka’s primary interest lies in the ANC,” said Maimane.

Mbete was “leaving it to the last minute with the primary interest of in fact making it an open ballot”.

“We must ask the question whether or not it is time for us to be able to say the speaker must in fact resign her party position to focus on parliament.”

Lying to Parliament

Zuma is not expected to attend the sitting on Tuesday. He has stayed away from previous such debates.

Tuesday’s debate comes as more allegations emerge implicating Zuma and members of his family in bids to use their access to the state to enrich themselves.

A senior government official on Friday submitted a sworn affidavit to Mbete accusing the president of lying to parliament when he said he had never introduced members of his family to government officials and ministers for business purposes.

The Sunday Times has seen correspondence revealing that in 2015, one of Zuma’s sons, Mxolisi Saady Zuma, negotiated with top executives at technology giant Altech for a R54-million “consultancy fee” in return for his helping the company win a government tender to manufacture set-top boxes for South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital television.

Although Zuma has survived eight previous attempts to have him removed from office, Tuesday’s effort is seen as a real threat to him given the number of ANC MPs and politicians who have publicly stated that they believe he should be axed.

Outspoken ANC MPs such as Makhosi Khoza, Mondli Gungubele and former science and technology minister Derek Hanekom are among those who have said they will vote according to their conscience, rather than toe the party line.

Opposition parties believe that, with a secret ballot, they can get more than 60 ANC MPs voting with them in favour of the motion – and garner the majority needed in the house to have the Zuma removed.

Mbete has been under immense pressure from Zuma supporters not to allow a secret ballot.

‘Bullied’

An ANC MP who supports Luthuli House’s decision to oppose the motion said the speaker should just follow the party’s wishes: “It’s a poisoned chalice, she must go with the ANC unless she’s telling us that we must remove her. How do you dislocate yourself from the ANC?” the MP said.

However, her refusal to grant a secret ballot may result in opposition parties challenging her decision in court.

“I am still applying my mind. It’s not the best place to be in … That’s all I’m prepared to say to you and on Monday I’ll have to finalise this exercise,” she said.

Mbete said she would not be “bullied” by opposition parties into making a hasty decision and they should stop abusing her.

“I am never going to be bullied by them, I always treat them with a lot of respect and I think they must just respect my space also,” she said.

Razor wire

She denied that she planned to frustrate Tuesday’s debate by announcing her decision at the last minute.

“They can think whatever they want to think. They are really just being abusive, some of them.”

A security shutdown of the parliamentary precinct will commence at 6am on Tuesday with a razor-wire barrier erected to separate pro- and anti-Zuma protesters expected to gather in the city during the debate.

The ANC’s Dullah Omar region, which includes party branches in Cape Town, will lead the pro-Zuma march.

Although its organisers said the march was to “defend the ANC”, some in the party said they feared it may be used to intimidate those party MPs viewed as being in favour of Zuma’s removal.

In a social media message circulated yesterday, Deputy Telecommunications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams warned against intimidating MPs who hold a different view to that of the party.

“Now let me help all those that think that the ANC starts and finishes with them,” she wrote. “In parliament only members of parliament vote and NO supporter or guest can replace or act on behalf of MPs there.

“Although this is obvious, there are some among us who seem to believe that bussing of a million people can change that …”

She went on to say: “Let us desist from daring people, DON’T DARE PEOPLE! You would destroy the only thing our stalwarts left for this country, a liberator which carries their hope and aspirations of a better life …

“Our movement has never reigned through terror but through extensive engagements and persuasions.

“Once we fail to remember those basics but rather believe that threats and insults will help us regain the trust of our members and the society, we must know that we defeated our ANC.”

SUNDAY TIMES

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