Veteran ANC MP Ben Turok could face disciplinary proceedings by the ANC after publicly explaining why he broke party ranks and did not vote for the Protection of Info Bill on Tuesday.
His party colleague, Gloria Borman, who also abstained, may be carpeted too – but Turok is the focus of the ire of furious ANC MPs, some of whom on Wednesday demanded that a special caucus meeting be held on Thursday and that swift action be taken against the party stalwart.
Turok slipped out of the chamber just before the voting started on Tuesday, returning later.
For this he might have got away with a slap on the wrist from caucus officials, who had imposed a three-line whip on ANC MPs.
However, Turok went on to explain his stance on SAfm on Wednesday, during which he urged the passage of the bill be delayed for further consideration.
His suggestion that some of his party colleagues may have voted blindly for the bill is understood to have enraged some caucus members.
Unusually, official comment on Wednesday came from ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu.
“The conduct of comrades like Ben Turok in raising their objections by abstaining (sic) and using the media smacks of ill-discipline and will be handled internally by the ANC,” Mthembu said.
ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga was on Thursday night in a meeting of the party’s political committee, which includes Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu.
ANC caucus spokesman Moloto Mothapo singled Turok and Borman out on Wednesday as the only MPs who did not have “legitimate” reasons for not voting according to the party’s line on Tuesday.
Borman told Independent Newspapers her conscience had not allowed her to vote for the bill.
A former DA politician serving her second term as an MP, she said while the bill was not “the evil piece of legislation it’s made out to be” she believed it would hinder the fight against corruption.
“I prayed long and hard and I voted with conscience,” Borman added.
Turok told Independent Newspapers he too had acted on principle – and suggested there had not been nearly enough thorough debate and discussion of the bill or its implications within the ANC.
He had taken an oath on becoming an MP to be loyal to the country’s constitution and his position as co-chairman of Parliament’s ethics watchdog, the Joint Committee on Members’ Interests, involved “an examination of ethics across the board”, he said.
Given the many amendments made to what was a complex and contentious piece of legislation, it had been difficult to keep track of changes – despite caucus briefings by ANC MP Cecil Burgess and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
“I would be very surprised if any member of caucus – and I consider myself one of the more diligent – has kept up with changes in the bill,” he said.
“I think the ANC must sit down and discuss it (the bill) very carefully, line by line – because it is political legislation, it does affect the democracy we want and the constitution,” he said.
Turok – who committed himself to upholding the image of the institution when he was appointed in February – has been party to tougher action against errant MPs.
The committee laid a complaint with the public protector about axed co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka, and slapped the maximum possible punishment on ANC MP Yolanda Botha in the wake of a kickbacks scandal.
With the ANC Youth League complaining about unfairness and inconsistency in discipline, the MPs’ action creates a major dilemma for the party.
Turok, who was instrumental in helping draw up the Freedom Charter and who also served time in jail under apartheid, was scheduled to appear on Newsnight with Jeremy Maggs on Wednesday night, but failed to do so. - Political Bureau