Zuma's removal: Seventh time may still prove to be the charm

Thrown into relief: Zuma supporters celebrate after yet another vote of no confidence against the president failed in Parliament on Tuesday. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Thrown into relief: Zuma supporters celebrate after yet another vote of no confidence against the president failed in Parliament on Tuesday. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)


President Jacob Zuma appeared to be a relieved man when he addressed ANC supporters in Cape Town after narrowly escaping a motion of no confidence against him on Tuesday. Despite the brave face he put on, and despite singing revolutionary songs outside Parliament, some 35 ANC MPs had in effect just shown him the middle finger by refusing to vote for him to remain as the country’s president.

Outside this week’s effort in Parliament, there have been two motions by his comrades within the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) for Zuma to resign. The party’s integrity committee, chaired by ANC stalwart and Rivonia triallist Andrew Mlangeni, recommended that he step down for bringing the 105-year-old liberation movement into disrepute.

Several other ANC veterans, as well as the South African Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu, have all not only called for Zuma to step down but have also banned him from addressing their events.

Yet Zuma has so far ignored all calls from his own party for him to step down. He has chosen to cling to power even after internal ANC surveys blamed him for the decline in the party’s electoral support during the 2016 local government elections.

When will the ANC president wake up and smell the coffee?

If he or any of his supporters ever doubted that he no longer enjoyed support in a number of ANC structures, the rebellion shown by a number of ANC MPs in supporting the opposition parties’ motion to remove him from power proved beyond reasonable doubt that he has lost control of his own party.

As expected, Zuma’s supporters this week were quick to call for disciplinary action against the ANC MPs who went against the party’s orders to vote for him to remain in his position.

It was the first time in the history of South Africa’s young democracy that any MP from the governing party had voted in favour of a motion to topple its leader.

There have been six previous motions of no confidence against Zuma since he became president in 2009, all conducted by a show of hands. Not a single ANC MP voted against Zuma in these, possibly for fear of being victimised. But the latest motion, which was done with a secret ballot, allowed ANC MPs to express themselves freely on how they felt about Zuma.

The ANC president would like us to believe that the ANC MPs who voted against him did so not because they were gatvol with his leadership, but because they had received bribes from the enemies of the revolutionary movement — who, he believes, would do anything to dislodge the ANC from power.

Thanking those who supported him during the motion, the elated Zuma said: “I can tell you, they spent a lot of money. And I’m happy for those who took the money — children will eat,” the president said outside the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town’s city centre.

“If they give you money, take it, pay for the schools and vote right. That is the principle,” he added.

Most of the ANC leaders who want Zuma out, including party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, have criticised him for failing to act decisively against corruption in his administration, not least of all the revelations in leaked Gupta emails implicating Zuma and some of his close allies within the government.

Although opposition parties have vowed to continue with efforts to oust Zuma (the EFF is pushing for his impeachment and the DA is calling for Parliament to be dissolved), he looks likely to continue as president, at least until the ANC’s elective conference in December. Only then may Zuma be forced to step down as the country’s president or be recalled by the party’s newly elected NEC.

At the moment, the ANC NEC is unable to recall him because of the party’s 2007 resolution that says the party president should be the president of the country. Zuma would feel much more comfortable if former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the one to succeed him. His supporters fear that if Ramaphosa is elected president of the ANC in December, and therefore would lead the country, he would not protect Zuma from potential prosecution.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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