How Eskom’s load shedding came back to haunt Cyril Ramaphosa this week
THURSDAY, November 26, was like any other day for the meeting of the programme committee in the National Assembly.
The committee, which is attended by presiding officers, chief whips of parties and officials, normally discusses the programme of the assembly and its committees.
It is these meetings that MPs use as a platform to ask for updates on parliamentary matters and for the presiding officers to make announcements.
So it came as no surprise on the day when the National Assembly secretary, Masibulele Xaso, informed the programme committee that Speaker Thandi Modise had asked him to notify the committee that she had approved the request to debate a motion of no confidence in President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"There has been a request from the ATM for a motion of no confidence in the president that came through several months ago.
"The Speaker has approved that request and our recommendation is that it be dealt with next Thursday the 3rd of December," Xaso said.
In a motion tabled in February, ATM leader Vuyo Zungula alleged that Ramaphosa had misled the country when he said there would be no load shedding between December 17, 2019, and January 13.
Zungula had also listed alleged failure by Ramaphossa to act against Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Eskom board for assuring him that there would be no load shedding during the period, only for the power blackouts to return a few days into the new year.
Other grounds in Zungula's motion included the R500 000 donation made by the late Bosasa chief executive, Gavin Watson, for his presidential campaign to be ANC president.
The ATM had cautiously welcomed the approval of the motion with spokesperson Sibusiso Mncwabe saying they had previously issued statements expressing their frustration to Modise for not making her decision until the country was confronted by a national lockdown.
"We are of the view that they were trying to look at all possible ways to defeat the motion or strengthen their caucus. We are happy that finally it is there now," he said.
Mncwabe had stated that his party was to request for the motion to be voted by a secret ballot.
But, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the motion would be debated and voted on in a hybrid sitting of the House through an open ballot.
The ATM was displeased and asked Modise to reconsider her decision and hinted at seeking court relief should the request be declined.
The party enlisted the services of lawyer Andile Justice Magigaba who gave Modise an ultimatum of until the end of business day on Monday to accede to the party's request.
But Modise stuck to her guns and again refused the request, saying the ATM has not offered proof of a highly charged atmosphere, among others.
The move left the ATM with no choice but to approach the Western Cape High Court to seek a judicial review and set aside Modise's decision.
The party, boasting two MPs, simultaneously pleaded with other opposition parties to back its motion.
Some opposition parties indicated that they would either abstain or not participate in the motion when it was debated on Thursday.
When the matter was taken to the judges’ chambers, the ATM and Parliament agreed that the matter be heard on February 3 and 4.
This prompted Zungula to request a postponement of the debate, which was agreed to by Modise.
Modise announced her decision at the start of the sitting which was meant to consider the motion.
Speaking at the start of the Thursday plenary, Modise told MPs she has referred the motion to the programme committee for scheduling.
"I have looked at the rules and I have decided to postpone the debate and the vote on the motion pending the conclusion of the court application by the ATM," she said.
Modise also said she had agreed to the postponement, among other things, in the light of a similar arrangement made in 2017 when Speaker Baleka Mbete's decision on the matter of a secret ballot was taken on review.
"In that instance the motion of no confidence was postponed until the court had made a determination. In the current matter there was limited time to consult with the programme committee in respect of the request of honourable Zungula."
The governing party and some opposition parties made fun of the motion while others questioned the ATM's last minute court action.
While the Deputy Minister for State Security, Zizi Kodwa, said they were ready for the motion, the EFF chief whip, Floyd Shivambu, warned him, saying, "you are going to be very shocked".
Shivambu said the programme committee should discuss the logistics of casting a secret ballot if ever it was granted.
"We must be proactive in the manner we prepare ourselves as Parliament. I don't think it must be very difficult for presiding officers to grant the secret ballot request if it is requested," Shivambu said.
Modise retorted that the programme committee should be allowed to interact with the matter and "not determine how I take the decision but determine scheduling of the motion".
With the motion now set for later consideration, the jury is out on whether it would succeed or not, noting the stance of other opposition parties, ructions in the governing party and the fact that the ATM has only two MPs.