MPs must weigh the consequences - and the message they will send
Who would want to be in the shoes of an ANC MP as parliament's ninth no-confidence debate on President Jacob Zuma takes place in the National Assembly on Tuesday? Their dilemma is captured in several articles on these pages today, and can be characterised as a choice between party and country.
Of course, the man whose tenure they are judging has stated clearly in the past that the ANC takes precedence over South Africa. He said as much in November 2015: "I argued one time with someone who said the country comes first and I said as much as I understand that, I think my organisation, the ANC, comes first."
Regrettably, the political and constitutional bind in which South Africa finds itself also relegates country to second place after party. The sad reality is that the real power lies with the national executive committee of the ANC. So even if ANC MPs decide to sanction their own party president by supporting the motion, it will be left to the NEC to decide who the ANC's chosen candidate for the No1 spot will be.And who can doubt that, in an NEC dominated by the Zuma faction, a Zuma candidate would prevail, which brings us back to where we started - in the pockets of the Gupta family and their friends scattered throughout the higher echelons of government departments and state-owned enterprises.
Of course, it is possible that ANC MPs may take advantage of the secret ballot - if Speaker (and ANC national chairwoman) Baleka Mbete agrees to it - and make common cause with opposition parties in then electing a president who has backing across the political spectrum. This is highly improbable.
If nothing else, the ANC has relentlessly pushed the idea that it, and it alone, has the answers to the pressing questions facing South Africa. And ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has been reminding us that, in terms of the constitution, not only Zuma, but the entire cabinet will have to step down if the vote succeeds.
"Instability" will be the result.
Imagine a South Africa without Zuma, who has single-handedly led us into junk status, or without Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who has inflicted lasting damage on the mining sector, or without Faith Muthambi, who presided over the fiasco at the SABC, or without Malusi Gigaba, a known Gupta friend. Imagine a South Africa whose economy is run for all the people, and not just the residents of a mansion in Saxonwold. Is that in itself not worth voting for?
This is unlikely to happen, especially if one reminds oneself that this is an ANC that is rushing to censure MP Makhosi Khoza while Zuma is left to sell the country to the highest bidder without a murmur of dissent from his colleagues.But perhaps it's disruption that we most need, if only to break free of the "certainty" that has the entire country and its economy in its deadly grip. Perhaps it's high time that ANC MPs used the occasion to send a message to their own leader, a message that registers their profound disappointment with his leadership and the cul-de-sac he has led them all into.
Zuma's ANC may win the day on Tuesday, but in doing so it could set itself up for a spectacular fall come the elections in 2019. Only time will tell whether that is so.
Meanwhile, we await Mbete's ruling on the ballot, and trust that she will use the opportunity provided by the Constitutional Court to order a vote in secret, thereby recognising the atmosphere of intimidation in which the vote will take place.
Tuesday offers ANC MPs the opportunity to state clearly where they stand on matters of governance and accountability. Is it asking too much that they break with their president's ruinous "ANC first" thinking and put the country first?
Yes, the NEC may come up with a Zuma candidate as president. But that candidate will not be Zuma himself. And that in itself should be a prize worth fighting for.