Caution, Mangaung ahead: ANC plays it safe

After the ANC’s Parliamentary caucus decided last week to quash the motion, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday the matter would be debated, but not immediately.

"The ANC cannot refuse to discuss a motion of no confidence, but we will not be frogmarched into doing so. It is not an urgent matter," he told journalists in Johannesburg.

The decision comes a day before an urgent interdict to debate whether the matter was urgent or not, to be heard in the Western Cape High Court.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, leader of the opposition in Parliament, tabled the motion of no confidence in Zuma on behalf of the opposition parties two weeks ago.

"President Zuma no longer has the confidence of our political parties to serve as president … " the parties said in a joint statement released, listing their reasons.

In a statement released shortly afterwards, the ANC said it reaffirmed its "resolve to quash any frivolous and narrow publicity-seeking gimmicks masquerading as motions in the National Assembly by some opposition parties".

Moloto Mothapo, spokesperson for the party's chief whip, said the motion was not based on any fact or evidence, and therefore amounts to nothing but character assassination.

Exercising caution
But the ANC's latest decision to avoid court is not the only cautious approach the party has taken recently.

In the space of several weeks, the ruling party has either backed down on pending legal action brought against it or settled out of court in several high profile cases.

In late October Zuma withdrew his claim for damages against cartoonist Zapiro, relating to the infamous 'Rape of Lady Justice' cartoon  published in the Sunday Times in 2009, and even agreed to pay half of its legal costs.

The withdrawal ended a four-year saga that began in 2008 when Zuma sued for R4-million in damages to his reputation and R1-million for injury to his dignity.

Three days later, the ANC and Afriforum made an eleventh-hour out-of-court settlement over the heated 'shoot the boer' debacle.

Last year, the struggle song containing the words "Dubul' iBhunu" (shoot the boer) was declared hate speech by Judge Colin Lamont in the South Gauteng High Court.

AfriForum took the matter to court after Malema continued singing the song at youth league rallies.

Lamont ruled the words used in the song were "derogatory, dehumanising and hurtful".

The judge interdicted all members of the ANC from singing the song in public or at private functions – a judgment the ANC appealed.

As a result of the pact, the ANC dropped its appeal and agreed not to sing the song in public.

Although both Zuma and the ruling party claimed the decisions were made with a view to respect constitutional rights and foster social cohesion, questions must be asked of their motives so close the Mangaung ANC elective conference in December.

Playing it safe
"I don't think there is panic as such, but it's useful not to be seen in the spotlight fighting these issues at this stage," said Eusebius McKaiser, political analyst and associate at the Wits centre for ethics.

McKaiser added it would be wise to employ a "cautionary approach" to any matter that could be seen to test Zuma's leadership.

"Six months ago, the ruling party would have fought these issues on principle. But now it is easier for them to let them slide – at least for the moment," he said.

Additionally, all cases  would have resulted in complex legal battles and, as such, it could be seen as prudent for the ruling party to be cautious.

On Sunday, Equal Education said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga agreed to promulgate minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.

"In an out of court settlement … Minister Motshekga has agreed to promulgate regulations to create binding minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure," Equal Education chairperson Yoliswa Dwane said.

'Scared to lose'
The regulations will require every school in South Africa to meet a minimum, but acceptable, level of school infrastructure which was conducive to learning and teaching.

"It might just be that they are scared they will lose," constitutional legal expert Pierre de Vos told the M&G.

This view was echoed by Ebrahim Fakir, political analyst at the electoral institute of Southern Africa

"They would look incredibly limp-wristed if they go to court to challenge things that are enshrined in our Constitution," Fakir told the M&G.

"It never makes sense to be seen as going against the Constitution, especially now."

While Zuma is holding the upper hand in the run-up to Mangaung at this stage, he appears to be playing it safe and avoiding public scrutiny, particularly in the courts, less than a month away from the conference.

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Nickolaus Bauer
Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.

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