• Female MP remains defiant despite death threats over calls on president to quit
By Emma Emeozor
The political drama in South Africa gets more frightful each day as politicians go for each other’s jugular in the struggle for power. Underpinning the fight are accusations and counter-accusations of corruption and misrule. At the centre of the potpourri is President Jacob Zuma, who has been asked to step down by both the opposition and a cross-section of leaders of his party, the African National Congress (ANC). But Zuma has refused to resign and his stance has brought him face-to-face with a female ANC lawmaker from his own Kwazul-Natal province.
Makhosi Khoza, 47, insists Zuma must go. She has been in the forefront of the campaign for Zuma to resign. She has publicly denounced the president, describing him as “a dishonourable and disgraceful leader” who has “lost legitimacy, credibility and integrity.” She has stuck tenaciously to the ANC’s principle of “Batho Pele (People First)”.
Her tenacity and forthrightness in the campaign has earned her the wrath of leaders of the party in Kwazulu-Natal, who have accused her of crossing the line. To her dismay and that of the larger population of South Africans who are yearning for change, the party has charged her of indiscipline and invited her to appear before a panel on September 10, 2017. The leaders say she is a“blatant betrayal of the core values” of the party.
For Khoza, there are other worries beside ANC leaders. On July 6, 2017, yet to be identified “killers” sent her a text warning her that she has “21 days to live.” Her daughter has also received death threats from the same group, according to her. The police have confirmed the threats to be real after expert analysis. But Khoza has remained defiant, saying she “cannot accept corruption, looting, a disregard for the people who brought us to power and the propping up of growing kleptocracy.” She has refused offers by the police for protection due to lack of trust. Rather, she opted for private security.
Why Khoza earned the wrath of ANC, Zuma’s supporters
For sometime now, the South African parliament has become a “Tower of Babel” as lawmakers are not able to agree on how to address the several allegations of corruption and misrule made against Zuma. Similarly, the ANC remains divided over the situation to the extent that the youth of a splinter group, under the hashtag #OccupyLuthuliHouse, had once tried to seize Luthuli House, the party’s headquarters. They were resisted by the veterans of the party’s former military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, its youth wing and women league, according to reports.
Moreover, what is Khoza’s main offence? After a fierce debate on the floor of parliament on how to respond to the numerous calls on Zuma to resign, a motion for a vote of no confidence in him was passed. The National Assembly was immediately faced with the dilemma of the modality for conducting the vote. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) proposed secret ballot, which was acceptable to the anti-Zuma bloc but unacceptable to pro-Zuma lawmakers. Following the refusal of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleke Mbete, to give her nod, the UDM went to the Constitutional Court for its intervention. In June, the court affirmed that the “parliament had the right to conduct a secret ballot.”
Trapped by the ruling, Mbete initially declined to announce a date for the vote and the Zuma camp swung into action to deflect the impending ‘war’ on the Presidency. But as a delay would not calm the nerves of the anti-Zuma bloc and an electorate watching the staccato dance steps of the parliamentarians with dismay, Mbete announced August 8, 2017, as the date for the vote.
Khoza played a leading role in the push for a secret ballot. The PhD holder in Administration is a highly respected and influential politician and lawmaker whose views on topical national issues cannot be ignored, especially by the electorate. And this partly explains the ANC’s anger in her province. It had expected her to use her influence to shield her kinsman and party member in this time of crisis. However, Khoza, who joined the party at the age of 12, disagrees with the thinking of her party leaders as she cannot put the party before the nation.
Her words: “They threatened to kill me. I exposed them. They tried everything to silence me. They failed. They accused me of having political allegiance elsewhere because I hate corruption because of its devastating effects on the poor. I believe in the government of the people, where ANC leaders collectively decide who is deployed or removed. In this case, kleptocracy is evident.”
She was quick to remind the party that “there is no section in the ANC that says support leaders who have lost credibility,” adding that “we are officially in a dictatorship when ethical voices are suppressed. We are officially in a dictatorship when choosing the people over amoral leadership is treasonous.”
So, how important is Khoza in the eyes of the people? South African media described her as fearless, honest and transparent and a friend of the masses. For example, prior to the debate on corruption in the country, she earned the admiration of the people during the parliamentary inquiry on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). She “dazzled” the people when she “grilled” the Minister for Communications, Faith Muthambi. She also impressed the people by “the competent way she chaired the process” to appoint the country’s new public prosecutor.
Khoza’s position in accord with parliament’s code
This is not the first time Zuma would be facing a vote of no confidence since becoming president. He has survived several attempts to remove him from office, garnering support from the leadership of the ANC. Indeed, it is the ‘Zuma crisis’ that has factionalised the party to the extent that it lost local government elections last year.
Reports quoted analyst and former ANC politician, Andrew Feinstein, as saying that, “The problem is that a lot of people within the ANC who are disgruntled with Zuma have actually left the organisation.
“So the organisation is shrinking in numbers, but the majority of members who have stayed within the organisation have stayed loyal to Jacob Zuma.”
Feinstein’s remarks point out the fact that only those who support Zuma survive in the party. Certainly, not ‘rebellious’ members like Khoza.
The South Africa Parliament code says, “Members should act with selflessness and integrity, taking decisions solely in terms of public interest” and avoiding placing themselves under any obligation to any outside individual or organisation where this creates a conflict or potential conflict of interest with his or her role as a member of parliament.”
An analyst, Amil Umraw, aptly put it when he explained that it is partly for the parliament’s code, “allowing members to vote in line with their conscience and not with the line of the party that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng set aside Mbete’s refusal of prescribing a secret ballot to a vote of no confidence in Zuma.”
People behind Khoza
South Africans have come a long way since the end of apartheid. They can no longer be fooled by politicians with devious character nor the ANC. There is no doubt that the public rating of Zuma is low even as he clings to power. The impatience of the people to wait till 2018 when his tenure as president and leader of the party expires shows a burning desire in them to begin the process of reconstructing the country that anti-apartheid icon and first post-apartheid President Nelson Mandela bequeathed to them.
Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, a respectable politician, has publicly asked Zuma to resign and “make way for fresh blood.”
“I’ve said it in ANC forums. I think the president should move aside and let somebody take over this country and reset the course, so that we can fulfil the kind of aspirations that Mandela and his generation had for South Africa,” he said during a panel discussion broadcast on news channel eNCA.
Gordhan was sacked by Zuma to the disappointment of South Africans and the international community. At the time, Zuma’s vice president, Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantasha, and party Treasurer-General, Zweli Mkhize, opposed the president’s action. And even now, Ramaphosa is strongly of the view that Zuma should quit. Zuma knows this.
A cross-section of the ANC, civil society groups, the opposition and women groups are giving Khoza support. Mary-Ann Dummer is one of the women who have publicly launched a campaign for the arrest of those threatening Khoza. She has written a petition titled: “Protect ANC MP Makhosi Khoza and arrest the people threatening her,” to be delivered to the President’s Office, Minister of Police Fikile Mabula and ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu “once it received the desired 1,000 signatures on change.org.” Already, over 568 people have signed it. This is even as ANC is reportedly said to have refused to comment on Khoza’s death threat. Even ANC Women Wing is shying away from the death threat due to their loyalty to Zuma.
Theodore Roosevelt sound bite
The fate befalling Khoza, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Service and Administration, is not peculiar to South Africa. It is a continental problem.
In May 1918, the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.
“It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.” African leaders must learn from Roosevelt. Now is the time to remake the country.