Heated civil society meeting debates secret ballot

Opposing positions presented by Makhosi Khoza, Bantu Holomisa and Steven Friedman

Photo of a banner and a man

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa at Community House in Salt River on Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by #UniteBehind, a coalition of civil society organisations. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

By Barbara Maregele and Natalie Pertsovsky

12 July 2017

ANC MP Dr Makhosi Khoza made headlines across the country recently by breaking ranks with her party. She has publicly supported a secret ballot in the lead up to the vote of no confidence in President Zuma.

“I was questioning, how do you divorce yourself from your moral compass from the decisions you make in Parliament? After that, I received numerous death threats. I was told that people would be coming to my house. Those who use social network will know my address because the ANC Youth League posted it online because they were going to picket at my house,” Khoza told a panel discussion at Community House in Salt River on Tuesday evening hosted by #UniteBehind, a coalition of civil society organisations .

Loud gasps and remarks of dissatisfaction could be heard in the hall when Khoza revealed that her daughter had also received death threats.

“We all believe in transparency and accountability, but we are here talking about real people who have gone through real situations. They are now sending these threats to my daughter. Why should I die in silence?” said Khoza.

But Director of the Centre for Democracy at the University of Johannesburg Steven Friedman said a secret ballot would “leave the door open to corruption”.

“The way a democratic system works is on precedent. If we have the secret ballot on this issue, then what other issues will be voted on using secret ballots? If we go this route this time, we open the way for more secret ballots, more unaccountability, and more brown envelopes,” he said.

Director of the Centre for Democracy at the University of Johannesburg Steven Friedman said a secret ballot would “leave the door open to corruption”. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Also on the panel discussion was United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa. The UDM took the matter to the Constitutional Court which ruled that the Speaker of the National Assembly has the power to decide whether a vote of no confidence in the president can be held in secret.

Holomisa said, “There are many implications for MPs who feel that Zuma has lied and they no longer want to tow the party line. They will be intimidated and labelled as someone who is ungovernable or may even be killed.”

Holomisa said that should the Speaker opt to not grant the secret vote, she will be expected to provide reasons for her decision.

“If the electoral system was transparent and promoted accountability, we wouldn’t be talking about this today. Mbeki was withdrawn overnight and no one made an issue about that. Zuma must face this secret ballot because he has threatened his own people. This secret ballot is going to protect those who want to vote and follow their own conscience,” he said.

But Friedman disagreed. “There are people in this country who want to buy politicians, and that’s part of what state capture is all about. If you have a secret vote, it is a lot easier to buy over politicians than if it were done in public.”

“Those who are elected, need to explain to us what they do and why they do it. You cannot have accountability if the people you voted for do things in secret,” he said.

Friedman said that he was willing to “make a pretty large bet” that the results of a secret vote would be the same as if it were done in public.

Khoza said, “I don’t think we will have a true reflection of what some MPs truly stand for if you tell some of the MPs that tomorrow they will not get an income if they don’t vote along the party lines,” she said.

Friedman replied: “The argument that MPs are worried about losing their salaries is one I have no sympathy for. If you’re a public representative then you have to accept that your job is to look after the interests of the people who voted for you.”

Chairing the event, Axolile Notywala, general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition announced that the #UniteBehind coalition will be having a mass march to Parliament at noon on 8 August to urge the ANC to recall President Zuma.

People’s vote

In anticipation of the Vote of No Confidence, the #UniteBehind Coalition, which includes the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Equal Education, Women’s Legal Centre, Sonke Gender Justice and Right2Know, has been setting up polling stations in the Western Cape allowing citizens to cast their votes against or in favor of Zuma.

“The polling stations are meant to say that ANC MPs must vote President Zuma out,” said Notywala. “It’s a way to show individual people on the ground have had enough.”

According to Zukie Vuka of #UniteBehind, the coalition set up polling stations in Delft, Khayelitsha, Mowbray, Rondebosch, Fish Hoek, Mutual Station, and Maitland.

Notywala said they will announce the results from the polling stations the same day as the Vote of No Confidence.