Are ANC Members of Parliament justified to say they have been elected by the majority of the people of this country and, therefore, they must always have their way in parliament and its committees? The answer is ‘no’ for obvious reasons which may not be so obvious to some people, especially those who understand democracy as the right of majorities to rule. That is a simplistic approach. There is a more complex and adequate one which I will touch on in subsequent paragraphs.
To begin with, did the ANC get the majority of votes? They got more votes from some of the registered voters. According to the IEC, the number of registered voters as of November last year was 24.1 million out of 31.4 million eligible voters, according to Statistics South Africa census. Out of the number of registered voters the ANC garnered 10 million votes including stolen ones, if the chicanery during the last elections in Gauteng is anything to go by.
If we do simple computing of the figures from the IEC and Stats SA, it means 14 million registered voters did not vote for the ANC, ceteris paribus, including 7 million eligible voters who did not even bother to register to vote. This means that objectively 21 million people did not vote for the ANC. The ANC, therefore, is not representing the majority of voters in South Africa. So where do ANC leaders and MP’s get the idea that they received an overwhelming majority of votes. Do they understand what overwhelming means?
Even if the ANC had received 21 million votes and the rest of the other parties got the difference, it would not be in the best interests of democracy for the ANC to disregard the voice of the parties in parliament with fewer votes than itself. It would be tantamount to confusing democracy with majority rule. Democracy is rule by populations. The concept of democracy has its equivalent in indigenous languages such as Setswana. I use Setswana as an example because I speak Setswana. The phrase that best captures the concept of democracy in Setswana is the one that says Kgosi ke Kgosi ka batho which means “a King is there because of the people”. It means the King takes or is supposed to take the cue from the people. And the phrase that demonstrates freedom of expression is the one that says, Mmua lebe o bua la gagwe which means every person has the right to speak even when there are those who differ with him/her or don’t like what he/she has to say.
When an issue is deliberated at The Kgotla or King’s Court or people’s assembly, everybody who wants to speak is given an opportunity to speak. A consensus is not reached because the majority holds a particular view. It is reached on the wisdom of deliberations of even a single person. Why are debates and deliberations in our parliament and their committees not following this principle? Why should all the decisions be based on majority rule? Stephen Macedo argued that “majority rule is not a fundamental principle of either democracy or fairness, nor is it required by any basic principle of democracy or fairness. Rather, it is one among a variety of decision rules that may, but need not, advance the project of collective legitimate self-rule based on political equality. Majority rule is a decision rule that has some nice properties, for example it is decisive when there are only two options, but its virtues, both practical and moral, are easily and frequently exaggerated” (‘Against Majoritarianism: Democratic Values and Institutional Design’ Boston University Law Review, Vol 90).
It can be argued that single party governments make decisive policy making and clarity of responsibility much easier, while coalitions are more likely to produce more representative policies and more inclusive decision making. By the same token, major shifts in government policy are easier to achieve under single-party governments, while coalitions are more likely to see issues discussed and debated before any changes are made.
It should be clear by now that this submission addresses itself to what is happening in the national assembly and its committees. An ad hoc committee on Nkandla in which the ANC wants to use its majority to dictate how the ad hoc committee should conduct its probe into South African President Jacob Zuma’s inappropriate spending of tax payers’ money to build his private residence. The Public Protector has ordered Zuma to pay back part of the money spent on his private residence. Zuma appeared on 21 August 2014 to answer questions in parliament which he didn’t and was protected by the Speaker of Parliament in a partisan way. That session ended up in chaos.
The sloppiness and ineptitude of the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete in conducting the business of parliament led to disruptions in one of the sittings on the 21 August. The disruption in turn led to disciplinary hearing against the EFF. The ANC again used its majoritarian arrogance and the EFF presented an indictment of the whole procedure and left. ANC MP’s tried to prevent opposition MP’s from calling witnesses but failed.
During the ad hoc committee hearings on Nkandla, ANC MP’s in that ad hoc committee wanted to use their majority to circumvent the hearing in a bid to protect Zuma. They even refused to entertain a suggestion by opposition parties to call legal experts to help with interpretation of the constitution which they (ANC MP’s) deliberately misinterpreted. The shenanigans of ANC MP’s led to a walkout by opposition MP’s. ANC MP’s are now deliberating by and amongst themselves. This is called shadow boxing for those who understand the sport of boxing.
The ANC invokes the 10 million voters who voted for it and say because they won more votes, they can do anything and everything to protect their errand and wayward President. I am not sure that the 10 million votes they got was a blank cheque or license to protect perfidy. Many voters openly say they did not vote for Zuma but for the ANC. It is about time that this country incorporates presidential elections in its electoral system and substitutes the closed list proportional representation system with an open list proportional representation system so that voters should not vote for the party but for individuals in political parties. The party list system leads to abuse of the system.
When opposition MP’s resort to legal recourse and win, ANC MP’s invariably criticize the judiciary saying it does not respect the principle of separation of powers. There are institutional designs that the ANC with its majoritarianism flout which scream for judicial intervention. There is nothing wrong with judicial review in a democracy. As Macedo correctly observed, “judicial review of legislation offends no basic principle of democratic political morality. Giving power to judges and other political officials insulated from some partisan political pressures may help political communities better achieve their democratic aspirations. Deliberation on hard questions of institutional design is not advanced by wrongly identifying democracy with majority rule.” The concept of a ‘majority’ should not be used as justification to flout democratic principles.
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a member of the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).