Opposition announces motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa

Seven opposition parties said on Wednesday they would bring a motion of no confidence in President Cyril Ramaphosa, two months after the African Transformation Movement (ATM) tabled a section 89 motion to impeach him on charges of breaching the constitution in the Farmgate scandal. 

They told a media briefing they wanted Ramaphosa removed from office to allow investigations into the theft of foreign currency from his Phala Phala game farm to proceed unhindered.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema said Ramaphosa had breached “many laws, the Constitution and his oath of office”, starting with failing to report the burglary and asking the presidential protection service to investigate it instead, in an abuse of state resources for his private ends.

“It should not take 70 days for Sars [South African Revenue Service] to indicate whether the taxes were paid in Phala Phala,” he said, referring to the number of days since the theft became public knowledge when former spy boss Arthur Fraser pressed charges with the police against Ramaphosa for concealing it.

Malema and ATM leader Vuyo Zungulwa said they feared that authorities, including the Hawks, the public protector, the revenue service and the South African Reserve Bank, were fearful of acting against the head of state. 

“The president abused his powers by instructing someone who is there to protect him to go and investigate theft on his private farm. That is abuse of power, that one is clear,”  Zungulwa said.

“The Constitution is also clear that members of the cabinet cannot undertake any paid work. The president in one of the ANC conferences clearly stated that the money that was stolen was proceeds from the sale of animals.

“Laws have been broken. However, we do not have a sense that these institutions are doing right by the Constitution and by the people of our country. That is why we feel it necessary as opposition parties to act.”

Motions of no confidence are governed by section 102 of the Constitution and require a simple majority in the national assembly to carry, whereas the impeachment falls under section 89 and requires a two-thirds majority.

Opposition parties have been trying to work in concert on the section 89 process, and have for two weeks been caucusing to reach consensus on nominations to the three-person panel that must be appointed to advise the assembly whether there is prima facie evidence that Ramaphosa broke the law. 

Malema said the parties had resolved, after three meetings, to nominate former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, former constitutional court justice Yvonne Mokgoro and former judge president Bernard Ngoepe.

In doing so, they are hoping to limit the speaker’s discretion in the matter, or at least for it to be a matter of public record should she ignore the opposition nominations in favour of the names proposed by the ruling party.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been part of these talks, but withdrew on Tuesday evening by way of a letter expressing its concern that the new motion would detract from the section 89 process.

“It remains our view — as previously argued in the meetings with you — that the section 89 process which has been initiated by the ATM should be given the requisite time and runway to be properly exhausted in parliament,” DA deputy chief whip Siviwe Gwarube wrote. 

“This is a historic moment in the national assembly where parliament has, through the newly adopted rules, given effect to the spirit and prescripts of section 89 of the Constitution. Parties now are engaged with nominating candidates for the independent panel that will ascertain the veracity of these allegations against President Ramaphosa,” Gwarrube said.

The rules were adopted by the national assembly in November 2018, after the constitutional court ordered in a case by the EFF against the speaker of the national assembly that parliament draft rules for implementing section 89(1) of the Constitution. 

The parties went to court to compel the speaker to convene a committee to establish whether then president Jacob Zuma was guilty of impeachable conduct for failing to implement the remedial action ordered by the public protector in the Nkandla scandal.

Zuma survived numerous votes of no confidence, thanks to the ANC’s commanding majority in the house, before resigning under duress in February that year.

A motion of no confidence is, in the words of the constitutional court in United Democratic Movement v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others, “potentially more devastating than impeachment”.

“It does not necessarily require any serious wrongdoing, though this is implied,” the court noted.

But the sheer number of times the opposition tried and failed to oust Zuma in this fashion, while the ANC closed ranks, suggests the chances of this vote carrying are slim.

Asked whether he believed the opposition could muster the numbers, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa replied: “We have travelled this route before,” adding that when they forced a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence against Zuma, a few ANC MPs defied a three-line whip to vote in support.

The parties plan to call for a secret ballot in the vote on the motion against Ramaphosa, and have the benefit of various favourable court rulings on the subject in recent years.

Malema said he believed it would be appropriate for the DA, as the official opposition, to table the motion against Ramaphosa, and hoped he could yet persuade them to do so.

The DA has reasoned that this route may, at most, yield an afternoon of fiery debate, whereas the section 89 process will see an interrogation of all the allegations Ramaphosa faces in the Farmgate debacle.

Malema said both section 102 and 89 were valid routes to holding the president to account and could be pursued in parallel.

“Our reasoning is that motion of no confidence requires very low reasons,” he said.

“By the admission of the president that there were dollars under mattresses … and that resources of state were used without a case being opened, it is reason enough to pass a motion of no confidence. 

“Whether we win or lose, it has got nothing to do with section 89.”

Malema said an opposition delegation would speak to the DA, without whose votes the motion is doomed, barring an ANC rebellion.

“We have assembled a team to go and work with them … We think we can find each other.”

The Congress of the People, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the African Christian Democratic Party and the National Freedom Party also support the motion.

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