African National Congress MPs have heard that their consciences will remain with them no matter what the result of the secret ballot vote in the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, the third speaker of the day on Tuesday, told MPs that Zuma and the controversial Gupta family had brought the country to this historic point.
“If the Cabinet is reshuffled by the Guptas, then we know that the president is no longer exercising his responsibility,” he told the National Assembly.
“We are rising against the Guptas who are appointing the boards at Prasa, Transnet and SAA.
“We are rising against those who have surrendered the people’s power into a family of foreigners. That’s what brings us here today.”
If Zuma had respected his oath of office, there would be no need for the motion.
“Stop misleading yourself. Stop lying to yourself.
“Your vote is secret, [but] your conscience will remain with you.”
‘The choice is simple’
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane opened the debate, started his speech by greeting “members, comrades and fighters”, raising the ire of ANC MPs.
“We may represent different parties in this House, but we are united in our loyalty to the Republic of South Africa,” he said.
“I never thought one day I would be in this Parliament fighting a new form of oppression.”
ANC MPs howled over Maimane as he spoke.
Maimane said he was tired of talking about Zuma and the Guptas.
“Honourable members, this is a historic day. Since the dawn of democracy, the stakes have never been higher. Our State has been captured.
“Our economy is in a recession, and our country has been downgraded to junk status.
To them, the choice was simple.
“Either we will allow one family, aided and abetted by our president, to take everything from us – or we will take our country back. The choice is not about red, yellow or blue. It is not about party politics.
“Today, our choice is about right or wrong, between good and evil.”
‘Don’t vote our of fear’
He pleaded with ANC MPs to recall the oath of office they swore at the opening of the fifth Parliament.
Maimane singled out former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, MP Makhosi Khoza and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, pleading them to stay the course and vote Zuma out.
He pleaded with Gordhan to play his part in the vote today. Gordhan sat stony faced during proceedings but managed a smile as Maimane pleaded with him.
“Vote for your hopes, not your fears.
“Do the right thing, and remove this corrupt president from office. Let us put the people of South Africa first, and vote Zuma out of office.”
ANC speakers though came out swinging to defend their organisation, albeit with very little mention of Zuma’s name or his presidency.
“We are aware all issues raised in our society,” said deputy ANC chief whip Doris Dlakude.
“We acknowledge our mistakes and are committed to correcting them,” she said.
“We are inspired to do right as our former president Nelson Mandela said, and I quote: ‘I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying’,” she said, to applause from her caucus.
She labelled the DA as insurrectionists anchored on racist privilege. She said they wish to manipulate the legislature to usurp its power and “collapse government”.
“Shame on you, it is the same hypocrisy that made you vote in defence of its Western Cape leader [Helen Zille], yet expect the ANC to do otherwise.”
She said all members were sent by their parties and they take their mandate from their parties. There was no one in Parliament who could say otherwise.
“The ANC rejects this motion with the contempt it deserves,” she said to a standing ovation from the ANC caucus.
‘Hire with your vote, fire with your vote’
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said they have been here before, with the only difference being that the current motion was held via secret ballot.
She accused the DA of trying to topple the ANC undemocratically.
“Let me tell you what my conscience is. It reminds me that it was SA voters who sent us to Parliament to represent them – [The] ruling party and the opposition.
“The ANC received more votes than any other party in the chamber.
“My conscience tells me we all need to respect the voters who brought us here.”
The only way the ANC can lose power is through a negative vote at the next election, she said.
“You hire with your vote, and you fire with our vote.”
‘Court of public opinion’
ANC MP Pule Mabe said the DA’s motion does not represent all of public opinion.
“The public correctly hates corruption. As public representatives we are duty bound to investigate these allegations,” he claimed.
“The court of public opinion must not become the benchmark of decision making.”
Smaller parties like the Pan Africanist Congress and African People’s Convention also said they would vote against the ANC, having previously voted with the ANC on certain issues.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said it was unthinkable that the country’s president would have dragged it to this point.
“This motion of no confidence is not against the ANC. We are not here to say ANC must fall. It is against corruption, state capture. It is against one man.”
ANC MPs must vote with conscience, or face the righteous anger of millions of South Africa.
“They will express themselves, not just in protests, but also in the ballot boxes.”
‘Look at the people marching’
He said the calls were not just the DA’s: “Look outside at the people marching.”
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said his party had created a safety net for all members of Parliament following their successful court application to clarify the role of a secret ballot.
“We have to seize the opportunity to put this country first. Let us vote for against the threats to our sovereignty.”
DA MP Phumzile van Damme said she was making an impassioned plea to ANC MPs not to disappoint South Africans again.
“Do not disappoint the millions of South Africans who stood by you through thick and thin.”
She said not one of the ANC speakers thus far even mentioned Zuma during their speeches.
“You have no confidence in Mr Zuma.
“This is a rare moment. A chance to do right for the people of the country.”
‘History will be the judge’
History would judge them if they again chose to protect Zuma. The people of South Africa were watching, she said.
“For once, please do the right thing. Fire Mr Jacob Zuma.”
FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said Zuma was a president constantly shifting the blame.
“It’s never the fault of the president. It’s always someone else’s fault.”
If the economy doesn’t grow, it’s because of white monopoly capital, he said.
“If you do not give the support to this motion, and remove the president who’s a blame shifter, then you are saying the problem is not the president, the real problem is the ANC government. That is what you will say.”
At the end of the debate, Parliament began setting up the processes for MPs to vote via secret ballot.