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Why ANC MPs rejected the Zuma impeachment motion

NEWS ANALYSIS: The ANC’s overwhelming rejection of a motion to impeach President Jacob Zuma in Parliament on Tuesday after the Constitutional Court found he failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution by failing to comply with the Public Protector’s remedial action relating to the Nkandla security upgrades, came as no surprise. Expecting anything beyond this, would have been like expecting pigs to fly. 

While some political commentators have argued that ANC MPs’ endorsement of the motion would have redeemed the party’s commitment to the constitution, others believe it would have been political suicide for the party to allow Zuma to be impeached four months before local government elections take place. But more than anything, for the ANC MPs, the rejection of the motion was also about individual survival.

Voting outside the party line by any ANC MP would have meant automatic dismissal
It is an open secret that several ANC MPs – particularly those who belong to a faction aligned to ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande – are gatvol with Zuma, but endorsing a motion to impeach him would have exposed the governing party as incapable of leading South Africa. 

It would have created an impression that opposition parties, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance – which took Zuma to the Constitutional Court to force him to comply with the public protector’s remedial action and pay back a portion of the R246-million he spent on non-security features at his rural homestead in Nkandla – were now in the driving seat.  

Some in the opposition benches expected Ramaphosa, as one of the drafters of the constitution, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is seen as the voice of reason within president Zuma’s cabinet and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas to at least abstain instead of rejecting a motion to impeach Zuma, but they all rejected the DA’s motion.  

Gordhan was among senior ANC leaders who this week came out in support of the constitutional court ruling against Zuma saying it reaffirmed the rule of law in the country. Decrying greed and selfishness among some in the ANC, he said the constitution should be regarded as the embodiment of a social contract between the ANC and society. 

Jonas earned respect when he publicly revealed last month that he rejected an offer by Zuma’s family friends, the Guptas, to make him finance minister.  

Even detractors within the alliance voted against impeachment
While SACP central committee member Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies did not attend Tuesday’s National Assembly, Ndzimande and the party’s national chairperson Senzeni Zokwana were – and both voted against the motion. This was despite the party’s critical stance over the weekend, saying president Zuma’s apology after he failed to uphold the constitution, was not enough. It suggested Zuma should step down as president. 

The ANC’s support of the DA’s motion would not only see Zuma losing all the privileges enjoyed by former presidents, but it would also mean MPs, some of whom are ministers and deputy ministers, would lose their high paying jobs and related benefits.

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