Former President Thabo Mbeki has weighed in on the debate around Parliament removing the current president, saying MPs are not beholden to their party. Instead, they must vote according to the wishes of the people that put them there.
In a letter in The Star on Tuesday, Mbeki said: “It is obvious and logical that MPs, each elected to this position by the people as a whole, and never by individual political parties, including their own, must act in Parliament as the voice of the people, not the voice of the political parties to which they might belong.”
The letter comes ahead of the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, which will be debated after Easter, on April 18. Opposition parties have said that they will be in favour of the motion, while the ANC has said it will be voting against the motion.
In the past, this has meant that ANC MPs have stuck with their party and voted as a single block. With their majority in Parliament, this has effectively prevented any attempts to oust the president.
But Mbeki said that this is against last year’s Constitutional Court ruling on Nkandla. In that seminal ruling, the court said: “The National Assembly, and by extension Parliament, is the embodiment of the centuries-old dreams and legitimate aspirations of all our people.”
Because of this, the court said: “It is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered.”
This, Mbeki wrote, makes it clear that MPs serve in Parliament as representatives of the people. “There is absolutely no MP who sits in Parliament by virtue of being elected by the political party to which they might belong.” This speaks to the core reason that Parliament was created, around the central hope of those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle: “The people shall govern.”
With this in mind, Mbeki concluded his letter by saying MPs need to remember that they serve the people who put them there. Not their party. They therefore need to head into next week’s vote with two questions in mind: “Do I serve in Parliament to promote the interests of my political party; or do I serve in Parliament to promote the interests of the people?”