Jacob Zuma has survived a motion of no confidence against him as ANC MPs closed ranks around their embattled leader on Tuesday.
Though the outcome was somewhat expected, given the ANC’s vocal stance against voting with the opposition, the result underscored the depth of opposition Zuma faces within and outside the ANC as a number of the party’s MPs voted in support of the motion.
The rand fell sharply within seconds of the announcement, losing 16c to trade at R13.36 to the dollar.
After a long and laborious voting process via secret ballot, 177 MPs voted in favour of the motion, while 198 voted against it. A total of 384 MPs voted with nine MPs abstained. The tally suggests 26 ANC MPs voted in favour of the motion to remove their party’s leader. The ANC enjoys a majority in Parliament with 249 of the 400 National Assembly seats; opposition parties have a combined 151 seats.
Despite intense lobbying by opposition parties, who were emboldened by National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete’s decision to allow the secret ballot, ANC MPs followed the party line choosing to retain Zuma as president of the country. Opposition parties had pushed for an anonymous, no-confidence vote to protect disgruntled ANC MPs who feared openly criticising Zuma, but under strict instructions from Luthuli House, the party’s parliamentarians ultimately voted in support of the president.
Previous motions of no confidence brought by the opposition have been stifled by the ruling ANC. The latest motion had been tabled by the DA earlier in 2017 following Zuma’s decision to fire then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan‚ and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas‚ which sent the rand and markets into a tailspin.
Zuma, dogged by scandals and declining popularity, has faced growing calls to step down, but ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said that while the party was aware of its challenges under Zuma’s leadership, it would not vote with the opposition to collapse the government, saying voting in support of the motion would further fracture and weaken the ANC.
All the ANC’s top-six leaders, including Zuma and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, had descended on Parliament ahead of the vote and met the party caucus in a last-minute attempt to make sure members voted to quash the motion. However, some defiant MPs, including former Ekurhuleni mayor Mondli Gungubele and Makhosi Khoza, had indicated they would support the motion.
Some within the ANC argued that under Zuma’s leadership the party is falling apart and the country moving backwards. His decision to sack Gordhan had heaped more uncertainty onto an already faltering economy and prompted ratings agencies to downgrade the country to junk status. The Nkandla scandal had also cost the ANC, becoming a manifestation of rampant corruption and greed.
The state capture allegations led to calls for Zuma to resign. A collection of e-mail correspondence between the Gupta family and their associates‚ including Cabinet ministers and Zuma’s son‚ Duduzane‚ also revealed how the Guptas have been influencing government operations and looting state-owned companies.
Defence of Zuma
During Tuesday’s debate, ANC speakers came out strongly in defence of Zuma.
Opening the debate for the ruling party, deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said the DA’s motion was part of a regime-change agenda. “This motion is [the opposition’s] publicly stated intention of regime change … our individual and collective integrity must propel us to rise above political expediency. We know and trust our members not to betray their movement and the imperatives of our democracy.”
She described the opposition as “hypocritical and devoid of integrity”. “The DA disciplines its public representatives for voting with their conscience, yet it wanted ANC members to defy the ruling party’s line.”
ANC MP Pule Mabe said: “Everything the DA does is guided by opportunism and desperation for fame. It is frivolous motion of no confidence … [tantamount] to a coup d’état”.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said the DA’s motion was essentially meant to topple the ANC. “The only way the ANC can lose power is by way of a negative vote at the next general election … we should not use other tactics to get rid of a governing party, that will be akin to a coup d’état … I have a duty to defend the ANC.”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said history will judge the ANC harshly if it “does not do the right thing and vote to remove Zuma”.