Zim MPs must learn from SA counterparts

HARARE - The “Rainbow Nation”, as South Africa is affectionately known, recently left their northern neighbours in Zimbabwe green with envy when that country’s highest court ruled their legislators could cast secret ballots in a confidence vote against President Jacob Zuma, whose second term at the helm ends in December.

On August 8, the South African Parliament took its debate on Zuma’s drama-filled presidency a step further when it conducted a secret ballot which, however, failed to dislodge the African National Congress (ANC) leader from the presidency.

It was a tense confidence vote that had been championed by opposition parties, mainly the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance. And the outcome was a close call where 177 were in favour of Zuma’s impeachment, while 198 were against.

Although the opposition parties’ intended outcome failed, there were huge successes elsewhere in the process that could provide some useful lessons for Zimbabwe, whose Parliament recently shot down calls for a secret ballot over a bill that was really of very little significance in the broader scheme of things in the country’s politics.

Now if Zanu PF could resist a secret ballot on the Constitutional Amendment Bill (Number One) will it stomach such on a critical thing like a confidence vote on its leader? This is where South Africans deserve credit.

Their conduct emphatically demonstrated the strength, resilience and independence of State institutions and some level of existence of constitutionalism in their country.

The slight margin by which Zuma survived, which also points to some from his own party having voted for his ouster, also speaks a lot to the political independence of some members of the party, whose judgment on national political issues is not sycophantically brainwashed by cultic worship of political leaders.

Such is a foundation of internal democracy for the ANC, which if allowed to freely evolve, can shift the party to a level where counterpart regional liberation parties can never dream of getting to. In the aftermath of the confidence vote, the ANC leadership has critical decisions to make.

They can fall for the temptation of witch-hunting those of their membership who were for the anti-Zuma vote and seek to establish a political orthodoxy that is based on cultism, blind loyalty and coerced followership as we have seen in political parties such as Zanu PF.

On the other hand, the ANC leadership can maturely treat the dissonance by some of its members in the confidence vote as a learning curve and focus on addressing the very issues causing such dissonance.

Should the ANC leadership do that, then the party will graduate to new levels of political consolidation and growth and become a dominant political party that survives more by internal reflection than internal and external subjugation of opposing voices.

For Zimbabwe, the lessons are as clear as the distinction between day and night.

Firstly, the benefits of strong institutions provide “checks-and-balances” in a republic’s political matters, which devolve power to the people through their representatives in Parliament.

Secondly, both the ruling Zanu PF and opposition parties in Zimbabwe must reflect on aspects of internal democracy.

As much as party members exhibit loyalty to their leaders in the public space, when given the secrecy of expression, they may behave otherwise.

Such expression is not determent to the party, if harnessed to build self-critique platforms that channel such critique towards political party strengthening, growth and evolution.

Thirdly, Zimbabwean politicians, especially parliamentarians, need to learn about the value of processes beyond outcomes.

The South African “no-confidence-vote” was more a demonstration of existence of democratic processes than it was merely about dislodging Zuma.

In Zimbabwe, many parliamentarians are in the august House for the sake of pushing a particular electoral outcome, come the next election, rather than fully participate in processes that build momentum towards establishing a representative democracy.

Zimbabwe’s democracy will not be achieved by replacing one political leader with another, or one political party with another, but rather by solidifying and consolidating democratic processes that will hold whoever comes into power, whether from one’s party or another, to strict account.

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