Angry ANC MPs want Turok's head
Angry ANC MPs are mounting pressure on the party to take strong action against veteran MP Ben Turok for breaking ranks in the vote on the Protection of State Information Bill.
The ANC rammed through the controversial bill with 229 votes against the combined opposition's 107.
Turok walked out of the National Assembly as the bill was about to be put to the vote on Tuesday.
Fellow ANC MP Gloria Borman abstained.
The Times has learned that a number of ANC MPs have approached the party's chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, to express their strong objections to what they regard as gross ill-discipline by the two MPs.
"It shows ill-discipline and in whatever form it will always remain ill-discipline," said a senior MP who asked not to be named. "We have had four caucus meetings and not even once did Turok and Borman raise any issues with the bill."
Another MP, who also asked not to be identified, said he was angered by Turok's assertion, on SAfm radio, that ruling party MPs had been given a wrong version of the bill to vote on.
"Who the hell does he think he is? He is implying that we are just idiots who vote without reading. It is condescending and insulting."
ANC MPs are now demanding that a special caucus meeting be held today to give them the opportunity to air their views.
ANC caucus spokesman Moloto Mothapo would not confirm that the party was considering disciplinary action against the two MPs, but said a statement would be issued today.
"For now, this matter remains an internal party matter. When we are ready, we will pronounce on it," he said.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu gave the clearest indication that the ruling party was disposed to take strong action against the two.
"The conduct of comrades like Ben Turok, in raising their objections by abstaining and using the media smacks of ill-discipline and will be handled internally by the ANC," Mthembu said.
Turok could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Borman told The Times that she abstained because she had reservations about the effect the bill would have on efforts to expose corruption.
"For me, it seems as if there are obstacles being placed . [it] just puts obstacles in the way. We need to be able to make it easier for people to expose corruption," she said.
Borman, who is in her first term as an ANC MP after defecting from the DA, said she represented a large church-based constituency concerned about the effects of corruption. She said she was in favour of a public interest clause being inserted into the bill as a defence for those exposing wrongdoing by rogue state officials.
"A public interest clause will certainly assist. I am not a legal person and I sought some counsel on it. In my discussions, the accountability side [seemed to be] lacking and there are some contradictions. It would seem a clause like that would definitely help," she said.
With tensions about the passing of the contentious legislation - which criminalises the possession and publication of classified state information - reaching boiling point, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has suggested that the ruling party is still trying to find an amicable solution to the dispute with opponents of the bill.
"I think it is important for us to also come back to this issue of the secrecy bill, that all of a sudden dark chambers are being created and so on.
"From my own background as a negotiator, when there is agreement on 90% or whatever, you separate the issues which keep the parties apart and that's what you deal with . you focus on that until you find a meeting point.
"I don't understand why people just dig into their trenches on a matter like that one."
He was replying to questions put to him in the National Assembly yesterday.
The bill has now been referred to the National Council of Provinces for further discussion. If that house passes it, it will be left to President Jacob Zuma to sign it before it becomes law.
Those who object to the bill being passed in its current form are now hoping Zuma will refer it back to parliament or for screening by the Constitutional Court to determine its legality before he signs it.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko will hold a press conference today, at which she will be joined by party leader Helen Zille, to outline the DA's plans for stopping the bill becoming law.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution added its voice to those condemning the bill.
The council urged Zuma to refer the draft law to the Constitutional Court for ratification if the National Council of Provinces passes it without change.
"This is an important piece of legislation that is necessary to protect legitimate state secrets and to protect the sovereign integrity of our nation.
"It should not contain elements that undermine the constitutional rights of ordinary people," it said.
On Tuesday, passionate pleas from media organisations, unions, civil society and other interest groups opposed to the proposed law fell on deaf ears.
ANC MPs voted to approve it in the National Assembly.