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The big story: Secret ballot make sense

During Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the corruption-tainted politician faced one vote of no confidence after another. None were successful but the process saw an interesting shift. At the height of public and internal ANC anger with Zuma in 2017, opposition parties successfully lobbied for a secret ballot. This meant that ANC Members of Parliament (MPs), who held a majority, could vote with their conscience and not be disciplined for voting against their increasingly unpopular president. The numbers showed over twenty renegade ANC MPs did so, even if Zuma narrowly avoided being ousted. 

So the public watched keenly when President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration faced its first motion of no confidence in the National Assembly yesterday. 

Typically though, given the ANC’s dominance, motions of no confidence by opposition parties can be little more than a PR move. But the DA presented the latest motion with an interesting twist: a motion of no confidence against Ramaphosa’s entire cabinet. Still, it was a doomed bid from the start and it failed. 

A second motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa himself was attempted by The African Transformation Movement (ATM), a more radical voice of the RET faction. That motion was thrown out for now, however, as the party is awaiting a ruling on allowing a secret ballot. (We’ll spare you the details of the arguing in parliament over this.)

If the ATM were to get court approval for a secret ballot at a later stage, it would make for an interesting litmus test of Ramaphosa’s internal popularity in the ANC ahead of a crucial internal ANC election. 

Two recent sets of national political research suggest Ramaphosa will win the ANC elective conference in December but is then likely to lead a coalition government from 2024 as the ANC heads into its era of decline, Ferial Haffajee wrote for the Daily Maverick this week. 

“Seasoned analysts say Ramaphosa will face noise, but not a serious run-off in December,” says Haffajee. But the bad news is: “Neither will he win a victory wide enough to secure a mandate for the kind of deep reform South Africa needs.” 

For that, we need a deep shift in SA’s politics. And maybe allowing secret ballots as a matter of course, and not making opposition parties have to fight for it, is a step in the right direction.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 31 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.