Ray Hartley Editor: BusinessLIVE
Former president Thabo Mbeki and president Jacob Zuma. Picture: AFP
Former president Thabo Mbeki and president Jacob Zuma. Picture: AFP

Former president Thabo Mbeki has once more emerged from the shadows of retirement to throw a log on the political fire.

In an article, Mbeki wonders aloud what MPs should do when confronted with a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

The vote is set for next week and the mathematics are interesting. The ANC has 249 of the 400 seats in the national assembly. Assuming all MPs are present and all opposition MPs vote in favour, it would take 50 ANC MPs to switch sides for Zuma to lose the presidency. It would take 101 to abstain for a similar effect to be achieved.

Mbeki’s intervention is, in essence, an argument that MPs ought to vote with their consciences and not along party lines.

He suggests that the constitutional court’s March 2016 Nkandla judgment required that Zuma be held to account.

Mbeki says: "In this regard it is imperative that all our political parties and our nation as a whole must pay particular attention to the judgment.

"The court went to great lengths to explain the obligations our constitution places on all organs of state‚ thanks to the success of the vision adopted by our nation as a consequence of the political victory of the protracted and costly struggle for national liberation."

Indeed it did — and in graphic language, too. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng warned: "Public office-bearers ignore their constitutional obligations at their peril. This is so because constitutionalism, accountability and the rule of law constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck."

Mogoeng referred to — and this raises the matter of conscience — "each member’s equally irreversible public declaration of allegiance to the republic, obedience, respect and vindication of the constitution and all law of the republic, to the best of her abilities".

By saying "each member", Mogoeng clearly viewed individual MPs and not political parties as the unit responsible for accountability.

As Mbeki was penning his article, an opposition party was attempting to get the constitutional court to hear its argument that the no-confidence vote be a secret ballot.

This would free MPs from the consequences of breaking party ranks.

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