As Parliament prepares to debate a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma, opposition parties seem assured they will have the numbers to depose the beleaguered ANC leader. Should the vote succeed, both the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), along with some of the leading lights in the ANC, could see their political ambitions scuppered.
Because the ANC occupies 249 of Parliament’s 400 seats, the opposition – with its 151 seats – will need to secure 50 votes from the ANC caucus to give it a majority with which to remove Zuma.
At present there are more than 20 ANC MPs known to oppose Zuma and who are likely to vote against him should a secret ballot be allowed. This list includes MPs such as Makhosi Khoza and Mondli Gungubele, who have faced censure from the ANC for declaring their support for the motion of no confidence.
Others, such as Pravin Gordhan, Derek Hanekom, Naledi Pandor and Aaron Motsoaledi, pinned their colours to the mast when they tabled a motion to have Zuma removed at an ANC national executive committee meeting last year.
If the president is removed, his entire Cabinet will be dissolved. Speaker Baleka Mbete would then have to preside over the government as acting president for a period of 30 days, during which the National Assembly must elect a new president.
Should governing party MPs contribute to having Zuma removed, their effort may not cleanse the ANC of its troubles. Instead, it could cause the party to close ranks even further to shield those who have contributed to its troubles.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said a successful motion to have Zuma removed could leave the ANC vulnerable to exploitation by the opposition, something the party has managed to avoid so far.
“If the motion of no confidence against the president is successful the ANC’s mantra of unity will be proven to be false, and that would be something the opposition would be more than willing to exploit, because an ANC with factions is weaker than a unified ANC. The floodgates would surely be open,” Booysen said.
For some in the ANC leadership, the ramifications of a Zuma recall have not even been considered.
“Had the ANC taken a decision to support that vote of no confidence we would have then said, ‘Here are the next steps beyond that point, ’but that’s not our decision [to support the motion],” said ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize.
“It may be premature to speculate on that; it may not even be necessary to get to that discussion.”
The electoral gains made by opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF in the 2016 local government elections were largely because of a loss of public confidence in the ANC.
Before the elections, the ANC already knew that less than 50% of South Africans were happy with the direction it was steering the country. Their main gripes were related to Zuma and his run-ins with the law.
Although a curse for the ANC’s electoral ambitions, Zuma has proven to be a blessing for opposition parties, especially the DA, which until last year had reached a plateau in attracting new black votes.
In the event that a motion of no confidence against Zuma succeeds and voters who are unhappy with him return to the ANC, opposition parties may see themselves shed some of their newly attracted voters and lose out on further gains from the ANC’s troubles.
“There is an obvious concern that Zuma’s departure may slightly influence our votes, because his tenure as president has helped the opposition immensely. But we have to look at the bigger picture and forget about political party ambitions,” said DA chief whip John Steenhuisen.
The EFF’s Godrich Gardee said the red berets were also thinking beyond their own electoral gain.
“It would be selfish for the opposition to keep Zuma for their own benefit. There is no denying that Zuma’s term has helped the opposition garner votes, but if Zuma does not go there will be nothing to govern in 2019,” Gardee said.
The South African Communist Party, which recently announced its plans to contest elections independently of the ANC, finds itself in a difficult position. It has publicly called for Zuma to step down, but it has benefitted from its membership of the tripartite alliance and faces isolation if implicated in toppling the president and possibly the ANC. Its members are in Parliament on an ANC ticket.
The SACP has also positioned itself as a champion of renewal in the alliance, and may see its electoral hopes compromised should Zuma be removed and the ANC repair itself.
SACP first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said his party’s leadership would meet on Monday to make a decision on its line of action.
“At the current moment the constitution [of the ANC-led alliance] is one that obliges members in the different structures to follow the mandate set and in this case the core mandate is set by the ANC,” he said.
“But of course we have raised issues with ANC on whether that mandate is correct or not,” he added.
ANC presidential candidates
At a time of fierce campaigning ahead of the December elective conference, presidential hopefuls such as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu have built their campaigns around fixing the wrongs of Zuma’s leadership.
As one of the frontrunners in the succession race, Ramaphosa in particular has cashed in on the support of disgruntled ANC members by calling out factionalism, looting and state capture.
Opposition parties have now challenged him to prove his critical stance by voting Zuma out.
“The current ANC leadership is on trial. Cyril, Blade [Nzimande] and others must show South Africa that they are ready to lead by putting the country first and not the president,” said United Democratic Front leader Bantu Holomisa.
Should Ramaphosa vote in favour of the motion of no confidence, he will be a hero in the eyes of the opposition, but an enemy to the ANC.
Being seen to be part of such a plan will probably isolate the deputy president, even from members who want Zuma out, and slash his hopes of becoming ANC president in December. Sisulu, who has also been publicly critical of Zuma and called for him to be disciplined, probably faces the same outcome.
The isolation of these two leaders, who have been tipped as favourites in the presidential race, would boost Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s chances of becoming president.
Mbete allowing a secret ballot in Parliament could dent her prospects as a presidential hopeful. If the motion against Zuma succeeds, the ANC could lay the blame of the president’s removal squarely on her shoulders.
But, said Booysen, Zuma’s removal could also yield positive results for the speaker if she used her short period as acting president after the motion to advance her own ambitions.
“Baleka is a Zuma supporter, but she also has presidential aspirations and the removal of Zuma will not only give her an opportunity to be acting president but perhaps also time for her to prove herself,” she said.