While South Africans grapple with Jacob Zuma’s one-upmanship of the country’s political order, a disturbing narrative is creeping into the mass action call for the president to step down, which could ruin the gains of democracy in the country.
This narrative, a call on MPs, particularly those of the ANC, to break ranks with their political parties and vote with their consciences on the no-confidence vote against Zuma is dangerous.
The call was first made by former rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State Professor Jonathan Jansen on social media where he wrote: “How I long for a country in which the elected representatives of the people vote their conscience and not their careers.”
It was followed by a similar call by former president Thabo Mbeki, who wrote: “MPs, each elected to this position by the people as a whole, and never by individual political parties, including their own, must act in Parliament as the voice of the people, not the voice of the political parties to which they might belong.”
This call, which comes from some of South Africa’s most eminent minds, seeks to disentangle the ANC’s dominant position in Parliament, which has frustrated previous efforts by opposition parties to remove the president.
It seeks to be a Plan B to force Zuma to step down.
Yet this suggestion, which looks logical and could be the solution to immediate problems, is fraught with dangers that will haunt the country in the aftermath.
Some of Africa’s worst dictators had to break the unity of multiparty political formations to secure their grip on their countries.
From Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana to King Mswati III in Swaziland and for more than half a century the argument has been the same: party politics deprive individual MPs the right to vote with their consciences in Parliament.
Political parties, the argument further goes, do not serve the interests of the people but are beholden to the dictates of their manifestos, which do not necessarily reflect the wishes of citizens.
If Jansen really wishes to see a political system where MPs do vote with their consciences, without any political party affiliation, all he has to do is jump over the fence into Swaziland and visit our Parliament when it is sitting.
He will find that there, too, motions for votes of no confidence in the government have been moved several times without any success. He will also find that careerism and individual self-interest are just as rife as it is in South Africa.
Zuma’s presidency has tested the endurance of South Africa’s democracy in an unprecedented way.Read More »