As far back as one can remember, the ANC has sold the chimera of the party as a broad church, accommodating a wide variety of perspectives, but the reality speaks differently.
When in 2009 a group of disaffected ANC members – the so-called coalition of the wounded who had been solidly defeated at the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane elective conference – hived off and formed the Congress of the People (Cope), to contest the national and provincial elections, the warning from the ANC was trenchant: “It’s very cold outside the ANC.”
When Julius Malema did the same thing after his expulsion, and formed the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to contest the 2014 elections, he was served the same warning.
Despite the dire warnings, both groups forged ahead with their plans to formulate an existence outside of the broad church of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance.
Whereas Cope has imploded into a non-entity because of a long-running leadership battle that dragged through the courts for years, the EFF has made significant inroads in our politics, positioning itself as the second strongest opposition party, with an appeal that may well outweigh in time, that of the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
In the last few months, opposition to President Jacob Zuma’s manoeuvrings has increased to the point where, for the first time in our recent political history, senior leadership in the ANC – Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize – have spoke out publicly against what he is doing.
Public protest on a broad front, largely party neutral and demographically diverse, has erupted onto our streets across the country, and despite all of the clever posturing of the ANC and Mr Zuma – labelling protests and calls for him to step down as racist – the reality is that a substantial proportion of civil society is fed-up.
The hot topic right now, is the no confidence motion proposed by the DA, and whether or not it should be a secret ballot. The matter sits before the Constitutional Court, which has yet to set a date for it to listen to argument from the parties, as to whether or not it will agree to hear the matter.
If the court does hear the matter, all it is likely to rule, is that contrary to her assertion, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete does have the discretion to allow a secret ballot, provided that a simple majority in the house votes in favour.
This places the ball in the court of the ANC caucus, which, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, is hardly united behind Mr Zuma, but what are the chances that any member of the ANC caucus will vote in favour of a secret ballot, considering that the vote on a secret ballot will not be secret?
If a simple majority does vote in favour of a secret ballot, the ANC will know with absolute certainty which of its caucus members supported it, and if the motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma succeeds, will be able to project fairly accurately which of its caucus members voted in favour.
In his seminal book The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, cites John Hartung’s controversial piece Love Thy Neighbour: The evolution of in-group morality, when he explores the attraction of religion.
“In-group loyalty and out-group rejection are indeed two of the most powerful forces in society. They are based on the collective need for identity, protection and achievement in the face of threatening outside forces,” writes Mr Dawkins.
He goes on to note, that even if adherents are at odds with certain of the mores, beliefs and practices of the in-group, they are unlikely to leave, because of the hostility they are likely to face, once they are members of the out-group.
And this is precisely where any ANC MP who votes in favour of a motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma will find themselves: cast into the wilderness, excommunicated, out.
There is an argument to be made that the members of the ANC who left to form the EFF disprove the theory of coldness outside the ANC, an assertion supported by the likes of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) general secretary Irvin Jim, and ex-Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, all of whom have flourished as members of an out-group, but they all left with significant constituencies.
The average ANC MP, and minister and deputy minister for that matter, are faced with the cold hard reality of being bumped from the list and replaced in Parliament, if they support a motion to remove Mr Zuma from office, because although he might no longer be president of the country, he will still be president of the ANC until the December elective conference, and he will exact veangeance.
And if the machinations of the pro-Zuma camp are anything to go by, the next ANC president may well be sympathetic to Mr Zuma’s cause, which means the retribution for treachery will be swift, merciless, and long-lasting.