Cape Town - The battle of eight opposition parties to get a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma debated and voted on in the National Assembly is set to play out in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga are opposing the urgent application being brought by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko on behalf of her own and seven other opposition parties.
Mazibuko is seeking an order to compel Sisulu to “take whatever steps necessary” to ensure the motion of no confidence – tabled on November 8 – is scheduled for debate and a vote before the National Assembly’s last scheduled sitting for the year on Thursday.
The constitution provides for a no confidence motion to be brought against the president of the country. If supported by the majority of the members of the National Assembly – 50 percent plus one – the president must resign and his cabinet and deputy ministers with him.
The motion of no confidence was duly tabled last week at a meeting of the National Assembly’s programming committee.
But the ANC stonewalled it, deeming the motion “frivolous” and without foundation, and the committee was unable to reach consensus on scheduling it.
Sisulu adjourned the meeting without the debate having been scheduled on the basis of no consensus having been reached.
Mazibuko is arguing in court papers that an order is necessary because Sisulu and the ANC are using “procedural machinations calculated to deliberately frustrate” the debate and vote going ahead.
“This inaction has prevented the motion of no confidence from being debated and voted on. This frustrates the whole purpose of a motion of no confidence,” Mazibuko said in her affidavit.
Section 102(2) of the constitution provides for members of the National Assembly to bring a motion of no confidence in the president.
In other democracies, the mechanism is often used by backbenchers of a majority party to bring about leadership change while ensuring they remain in government.
In a replying affidavit filed on Monday, Sisulu rejects “with contempt” the allegation that he is engaging in “machinations”.
“[The National Assembly] can still decide to debate the motion of no confidence and vote on it,” Sisulu’s affidavit says. He said he did not believe a court could make an order on “such wide and vague terms” as Mazibuko was asking for.
He also said the application was premature as there had been no final decision by the National Assembly.
“It cannot possibly be correct that as frequently as any number, however small, of 400 members of the [National Assembly] move a motion of no confidence in the president, it has to be scheduled for debate and a vote,” Sisulu’s affidavit states.
It was “not appropriate” for the DA to approach the court to intervene, said Sisulu, “especially in a matter involving the inner workings of the National Assembly”.
Judge Dennis Davis is expected to preside over the case.
Mazibuko’s affidavit says that: “When eight opposition parties, who represent about a third of South African voters, request that the National Assembly resolve that it has no confidence in the president… the National Assembly must be given the opportunity to debate and vote on the motion without delay.”
This is the second motion of no confidence moved against Zuma.
But it is the first time that so many opposition parties have backed such a move. Former Cope parliamentary leader Mvume Dandala brought a motion of no confidence against Zuma in March 2010. It was debated and easily defeated.
Now, with the ANC’s Mangaung national conference less than a month away, managing perceptions of Zuma has become paramount for those with the power to do so.
Avoiding opportunities for embarrassing questions or debate to be broadcast about Zuma is high on the agenda of his supporters as he moves towards securing a second term as ANC president.