The number ‘8’ appears to be Jacob Zuma’s lucky charm, as the President of South Africa survived an eighth motion of no confidence against him in the National Assembly on the eighth day, of the eighth month, of this, his eighth year in office.
Already, however, people are suggesting Zuma has used up eight of his nine metaphorical cat lives, for this ballot was the closest yet, saw an important constitutional precedent set and revealed an increasingly corruption scandal-weary ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Zuma’s presidency has become marred with accusations of corruption concerning an all-too cozy relationship with three Indian-born billionaire brothers, Rajesh, Atul and Ajay Gupta. Such accusations include money laundering, government contract collusions and that the Guptas unduly influenced President Zuma to sack in March of this year, the highly respected Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, an action which triggered yesterday’s no confidence vote.
Further, there is a British element to the scandal with the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, accused of being hired to draw attention away from the Guptas’ far-reaching influence and doing so via a campaign designed to stoke racial tensions in post-apartheid South Africa.
With this and his extravagant private life increasingly exposed, Zuma has faced growing dissent from his own party, the ANC’s ranks.
When one ANC MP, Dr Makhozi Khoza, claimed she had received death threats following openly criticizing the President, there followed a concerted push from the opposition benches of the Assembly for the motion of no confidence vote to be a secret ballot. They claimed this would allow more ANC MPs to vote with their conscience, free of fears of reprisal.
The Constitutional Court ruled that it was up to the Speaker to determine whether a secret ballot was required. The day before the vote Speaker Baleka Mbete (see below) ruled in favour of a secret ballot.
In a fiery, tempestuous debate, senior ANC members, including the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms. Nosoviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, attacked the motion as an attempted coup d’etat against the ANC government, while opposition members, in a rare show of unity, including the Democratic Alliance party leader, Mmusi Maimane, appealed to ANC members to rid themselves of the corrupt President.
At one stage it seemed the debate was descending into farce as MPs for the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters Party (EFF) constantly interrupted ANC speakers with spurious points of order, while their leader, Julius Malena, was forced to withdraw in succession remarks labeling Zuma to be a ‘criminal‘, ‘crook’ and ‘lêmênêmênê’ [translation from Setswana: scoundrel or cheat].
Julius Malema: I want to vote a criminal out.
Deputy Speaker: Please withdraw
JM: Okay I withdraw. I want to vote a crook out 😁 #zumavote
— Nothing Burger (@Burgerboxx) August 8, 2017
Highlighting the nerves of some members preparing to vote in the secret ballot, several raised points of order to successfully urge the removal of press photographers from the public gallery, fearing that ‘high-zoom’ cameras could tarnish the secrecy of the ballot, taking place in specially brought-in booths on the parliament floor.
After a prolonged vote, it emerged that the vote of no confidence had been defeated 198 votes-177.
Speaker Mbete: Total votes 384
Therefore, the Motion of No Confidence in the President is accordingly NEGATIVE.
— Parliament of RSA (@ParliamentofRSA) August 8, 2017
In consideration that opposition parties number altogether only 151 of the 400 total National Assembly seats, the result remains significant for at least 26 of the 249 ANC MPs chose to vote to remove Zuma from office.
Zuma remains in power until 2019 it would seem, when he reaches the end of his maximum two terms of office and the ANC must both pick a new candidate for the presidency and try to retain its majority in the unicameral parliament, having won 62% of the vote in 2014.