One has to have a thick skin if you are a politician, especially during a week where the National Assembly passes an ominous piece of legislation without much embarrassment by the majority of MPs.
Gloria Borman, by abstaining, and Ben Turok, by not voting, became media celebrities because they had the guts to defy an ANC three-line whip.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe complained afterwards that there had been plenty of opportunity for MPs to express their opposition to the Protection of State Information Bill, and it was not proper to voice their objections through the media afterwards.
Lluwellyn Landers, who rounded up the debate on the bill on Tuesday for the ANC, emerged from the unpleasant process with little honour. He argued that those who were to vote no – the entire opposition except for one United Democratic Movement MP who abstained – were trying to keep in place a secrecy law which had been put in place by the PW Botha government..
It took the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) chief whip Koos van der Merwe to recall that Landers – as a coloured Labour Party MP – had served as a deputy minister in the late tyrant’s tricameral government. Landers has come a long way since then, taking the role of the defender of the indefensible for the party he now supports.
Then there was our once widely admired former finance minister Trevor Manuel who responded to opposition leader Lindiwe Mazibuko’s jibe that the ANC was voting against its own struggle record. He wondered, patronisingly, how she would know.
He went on to vote for a bill that will aid and abet secrecy around corrupt government practice just days after releasing his National Planning Commission’s report, which suggests that cracking down on corruption is something to be pursued.
Another MP, this time on the opposition benches, did not exactly cover herself with glory either.
The DA’s Dene Smuts had led her party’s – most of the time – honourable fight against the secrecy bill in the relevant ad hoc committee. On the day of its passage through the National Assembly, she wore orange while all of the opposition, the parliamentary press gallery, national editors and most of the visiting public wore black as a defiance symbol.
To demonstrate their displeasure, 31 members of the DA abstained on a vote to accept a report of the ad hoc committee.
IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini had brought over 100 amendments to the legislation as an attempt to filibuster and delay the measure. For some reason Smuts was incensed by his action, and he couldn’t garner a seconder. Significantly, among those 31 abstentions was her lieutenant, David Maynier – and many MPs who had backed Mazibuko against Athol Trollip in the recent DA parliamentary leader contest.
Intriguingly, Mazibuko, Trollip and Smuts were among the other 30 DA MPs – and the ANC majority – who assented to the report. The abstentions were described by one MP as a “backbench revolt” against Smuts, who appeared to be driven by her own agenda and not that of the party.
In the end the ANC pushed through the “second reading” by 229 votes with two abstentions and 107 against, this time including all the DA MPs and the other opposition parties. The measure now goes before an ad hoc committee of the National Council of Provinces, but it is likely to be passed by Parliament next year. When it ends up at the Constitutional Court, one hopes that the judges are wearing black.