Mine’s bigger than yours — for now, anyway

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Most good jokes can be carried off with just the punchline. Note the following:

“No signora, ees not my feenger …”
“I tried to stop swallowing, but it was all one piece!”
“Declawed? I thought you said deboned?”
“So the bear picked up the rabbit and wiped his ass with it.”
“Perhapth I should rephwase that: Can I thee her wun awound a widdlebit?”
“The rabbi answered sadly: ‘My wife is from Minsk.’”
“Because it was stapled to the chicken”
“I knew if I waited long enough, I’d get a hot meal.”
“Peter! I can see your house from here!”

(If you didn’t get any of these, don’t worry — you’re not the target market, but I digress.)

Political commentary is similar in a different way. You can skip through the joke directly to the punchline. But the punchline, inevitably, is boring. (Which is why I generally avoid writing political commentary.) Note the following, which you will find in most of our esteemed publications:

“Time will tell.”
“… remains to be seen.”
“… needs to be urgently addressed.”
“… questions need answering.”
“… must come clean, now!”

These punchlines get tacked on to pieces that comment at length on the bleat of the month. Pay attention, class: today’s bleat of the month is “two centres of power”.

Try this: Go to Google.co.za, type in “two centres of power” and click “pages from South Africa”. Here’s what came up as I was writing this:

  • Mail & Guardian Online: Provinces mum on ‘two centres of power’
  • IOL: Two centres of power clash
  • Citizen: Two centres of power alarms many
  • Business Day: ‘Two centres of power’ to be debated
  • Die Burger | Polokwane | SABC first ANC battlefield — The first clash between the so-called two centres of power …
  • Cape Times: No need to fear party-state divide. Having two centres of power would lead to a dichotomy between policy …
  • Financial Mail: When elephants fight. Two centres of power must be managed
  • Sunday Independent: “The two centres of power are going to work together until 2009
  • Sunday Tribune: However, the two centres of power schism …

But not one of these commentaries will give any hint of exactly what these two centres of power are, and why we should give a flying flip.

Here’s my take on this. There is no such thing as two centres of power. There is only one, and that is the Presidency — of the nation, not of the party.

What is at hand right now is whether control of the Presidency remains with Thabo Mbeki for the next year and a bit. The only pressure that the ANC can bring to bear upon Mbeki at the moment (and make no mistake, Jacob Zuma is the ANC) is to threaten to remove him from office if he does not comply with instructions from Luthuli House.

Clause 89 of our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, says this much under “Removal of the President”:

The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of
(a) a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;
(b) serious misconduct; or
(c) inability to perform the functions of office.

Hmmm … A two-thirds majority? Under normal circumstances, all this would require would be an instruction from Luthuli House, and the honourable members of the ruling party would vote en masse.

But these are not normal circumstances. The honourable ANC members of the National Assembly at present are there by virtue of their presence on the party’s list at the 2004 elections — a list that was signed off by Thabo Mbeki.

So while there was a 60:40 split of votes in favour of Zuma at the December Polokwane conference, the split of support among current serving MPs is likely to be skewed in the opposite direction.

Let’s now take our hypothetical situation forward to when Parliament reconvenes in February. The leader of the opposition (or in this case, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, as the true leader of the DA is not an MP) proposes a motion of no confidence in the government …

Damn! What am I saying! That’s unlikely to happen. Would Helen want Thabo replaced at this stage? I don’t think so.

Let’s try that again: a member of the ruling party (why does Jeremy Cronin come to mind?) proposes a motion of no confidence in the government. The honourable speaker allows the vote (because she is fair-minded and not because she is a Zuma supporter). The members vote …

And this is the only crucial point in the future of our country until the next national election. How the ANC MPs vote all depends on whether they are loyal and disciplined members of the ANC (in which case, they will follow Zuma) or whether they are loyal to Mbeki (in which case, they will break party ranks and vote according to their conscience).

Now, the motion of no confidence is a special beast. Again, to quote the Constitution (under section 102, titled “Motions of no confidence”):

(1) If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet excluding the President, the President must reconstitute the Cabinet.
(2) If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

If the ANC votes on instruction from Luthuli House, Mbeki will resign. A new president will be proposed (loyal to JZ) and will assume office. (Note that JZ himself cannot be proposed as one needs to be an elected MP before becoming president.)

But let us assume that after 96 years of unity (apart from the breakaway of the PAC or that Gatsha Buthelezi incident or the expulsions of Holomisa and Nkabinde), the unthinkable happens — ANC members break party discipline and vote according to their conscience. What will be the result?

Possibly up to 50% of the ANC members will vote for the motion. The remaining 50% will vote against the motion. The balance of power in terms of whether Mbeki stays or goes then falls upon the DA. (Or the ID plus the FF+ plus Inkatha plus the ACDP — it gets better and better.)

My guess is that most of the opposition will not want Mbeki replaced. The alternative would (for them) be too ghastly to contemplate.

Mbeki will then be free to continue to run the country as he sees fit, ignoring Cosatu’s whingeing about inflation targeting or free education. The Scorpions will not be disbanded and JZ will stand trial. The SANDF will maintain law and order (because the defence minister is fair-minded and not because he is an Mbeki supporter).

Legal challenges will be brought ahead of the elections to try to allow JZ to be elected. The Constitutional Court will rule against this (because it is fair-minded and not because it was appointed by T’boz … well, it ruled against Schabir Shaik, didn’t it?).

The rest is silence.

So, no matter what others might tell you, the most crucial period in our country’s history is right now, before Parliament reconvenes. Msholozi and T’boz will each have to convince the ANC MPs that the correct course of action is to support their particular viewpoint.

And as Polokwane has shown, T’boz needs a lot of work toward that particular skill set.

  • Kanthan believes JZ will be a good president, really.