Influential speaker Baleka Mbete has taken it out on prodigal MPs who deviate from party line. Speaking at the ongoing 2017 ANC National Policy Conference, on Tuesday urged individual MPs to toe the party line when voting.

“In as far as the question of secret or not secret [ballot], I think individuals can think whichever way they want to, but whereas a member who was sent to Parliament by a political party, you owe it to that party to take a position as guided by it,” Mbete noted.

Responding to this was DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, who slammed Mbete for placing ANC interests before Parliament.

“It is alarming that Mbete feels free to speak so candidly about the “obligations” of ANC MPs precisely when she is called upon to apply her mind and decide on the matter of the secret ballot.

“The Constitutional Court was unequivocal in its June 22 ruling. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, in considering if the Constitution provides for a secret ballot, noted that ‘members of the ruling party are also at liberty to vote in a way that does not always have to be predetermined by their parties’,” he said in a statement.

Last month, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that the question of whether an impending motion of no confidence vote in President Jacob Zuma should be held via secret ballot was fully in Mbete’s hands as Speaker.

“The United Democratic Movement’s (UDM’s) request for a motion of no confidence in the president is remitted to the Speaker for her to make a fresh decision,” Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled at the time.

The application to the Constitutional Court came from the UDM, prompted by Zuma’s controversial removal of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. The secret ballot case is one of the many attempts by opposition parties and civic organisations to have Zuma removed from office.

Mbete had argued that she was under no obligation to set a secret vote and that such decision was up to the National Assembly members – an argument rejected by the Constitutional Court judges.

Opposition parties such as the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), African People’s Convention (APC), Congress of the People (Cope), Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supported the application.

Mogoeng ordered that Mbete and Zuma pay the legal costs of the UDM, EFF, DA, IFP and Cope.

Commenting on a large gallery of bronze, full-size statues of local and international struggle icons displayed at the NPC venue, the Nasrec Expo Centre, Mbete said the heroes were a fitting reminder of the long journey travelled in the struggle for emancipation of South African people.

“This national policy conference became an opportune moment to bring out how far we are with some of this statues. There are many more, and there will be many more coming up. Hopefully, one day there will be an appropriate location where these statues will depict the journey of the struggle of the people of South Africa. Hopefully, when we are a nation, when we have become a nation – which we are still striving at – we will come out from time to time to look at those statues and remember where we have come from,” said Mbete.

Asked whether the struggle icons displayed, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Samora Machel and Chris Hani, would be disappointed with the current day ANC, Mbete responded: “Not so much, because over the ages the ANC has faced and dealt with various challenges of those times, so the ANC right now is facing certain specific challenges that depict the reality of today.

“The ANC now, 105 years later, is faced with a different reality. We went to exile, led by Oliver Tambo for almost 30 years, we are now back and have been in office for about 20-odd years, and we are in a different space. We have learnt more things about governance. There will still be more challenges going forward and we are up to it,” said Mbete.