Cape Town - A total of 34 ANC MPs did not vote for the protection of state information bill on Tuesday, despite a three-line whip - an order which means compulsory attendance or a heavy penalty.
However, inquiries to the office of ANC chief whip Dr Mathole Motshekga revealed that the truants need not anticipate any steps against them.
Motshekga has been under fire for some time because discipline has become very lax in the ANC caucus under his leadership, and criticism of his role as chief whip will increase following Tuesday's events.
The ANC MP who took the strongest stand was Gloria Borman, a former DA MP from Durban, who was present during voting but indicated electronically that she was abstaining.
One of the ANC’s leading free thinkers, Professor Ben Turok, a veteran who played a big part in the writing of the 1955 Freedom Charter, slipped out of the National Assembly as voting time approached.
It is well known that Turok was feeling torn between party loyalty and his conscience about the content of the bill. Evidently conscience won.
Someone who became ill in the course of the day was ANC MP Salamuddi Abram, a known advocate of freedom of speech.
Another advocate of freedom of speech, Vytjie Mentor, was not present at the voting.
The two recently sacked ministers Sicelo Shiceka and Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde were absent, as was well-known trade unionist Eric Mtshali.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, another absent MP, has not been very well of late. Various ministers and deputy ministers had obligations elsewhere.
Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu did not vote, in keeping with parliamentary convention.
Moloto Mothapo, spokesperson for the ANC chief whip, said several ANC MPs had requested leave of absence “because they are ill or abroad”.
He would not, however, disclose who had stayed away unexpectedly.