President Jacob Zuma survived by the skin of his teeth with at least 26 ANC MPs going against the party line and voting with the opposition in a failed attempt to remove the president.
Only 21 votes separated those MPs who wanted Zuma gone from those who successfully defended his continued stay in office, and for the first time in eight motions his support in the National Assembly dipped below the 200 (50%) mark. Of the 384 MPs who voted in the motion, 198 opposed the call for Zuma’s dismissal but signalled the widening rift in the party, a total of 177 MPs voted in support of the motion. Nine abstained in what was the first secret vote in a motion against Zuma. There are only 151 opposition MPs in the 400-seat National Assembly.
About half an hour later, a relieved Zuma put up a brave face and addressed hundreds of ANC supporters who had gathered outside Parliament thanking them for their support. “I’ve just come to say thank you to all of you. The comrades in Parliament needed support from membership and supporters,” he said while flanked by his staunch supporters in the ANC national executive.
Zuma sought to downplay the results saying the opposition will realise in 2019 that the ANC was supported by the overwhelming majority and will win in a big way in that election.
Hundreds of ANC supporters who had converged outside Parliament for the entire afternoon erupted into celebration and chants of “ANC, ANC, ANC” as Speaker Baleka Mbete announced the results on big screens erected outside Parliament at 6.40pm.
The motion had been five months in the making and had gone through a number of twists and turns, with Mbete first denying a UDM request for a secret ballot, a matter which landed in the Constitutional Court and finally granting it on the eve of the debate. The motion was tabled by the Democratic Alliance in April following Zuma’s midnight Cabinet reshuffle which led to the plummeting of the rand.
In the debate that preceded voting, ANC MPs did not seek to defend Zuma and his failures as outlined by the opposition but instead focused on articulating the ANC’s achievements as a governing party. The party also latched on to a narrative about how the constitutional motion of no confidence in Zuma was about regime change with arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa reducing it to a coup d’etat.
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula spoke of a duty to defend the ANC saying her political consciousness was telling her “I have a duty to defend the ANC”.
“I am standing on this podium to defend the ANC. I spent my youth as a member of the ANC. I am now approaching the twilight of my political career. I came into this House in 1994 as part of the first Parliament. I have been a leader in the ANC and ANC Women’s League for years. I believe, therefore, I have served my people the best way I could in those years,” she said.
“But, I will always defend the ANC, which, at the helm but always together with the masses of our people, helped to usher in the democratic dispensation we are enjoying these days,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
Another ANC MP Pule Mabe also touched on the ANC’s historical role as a liberation movement and how it led the rest of society “to a right path, one that has always been about reconstruction and development.”
Mabe sought to question the public protector’s State of Capture report which he said was concluded rapidly, containing very serious findings and recommending very specific remedial action. “In this regard our President Jacob Zuma is already leading the charge in undertaking the process to establish a judicial commission of inquiry with rigor and honour for its conclusions on the allegations made to have measure of credibility.” Zuma is taking the report on legal review, a matter which will only be heard in October.
State capture was the basis of attack for a number of opposition speakers.
“I never imagined that one day I would be here, in this Parliament, fighting a new form of oppression – a corrupt system that keeps our people imprisoned in poverty,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane opening the debate.
“If you had told me that one day our democratically elected President would end up corrupted and captured by a criminal syndicate, I would’ve never believed you. But here we are…” he said.
Maimane said the hundreds of thousands of leaked emails and the testimony of members and former MPs were evidence that the state has been captured. He urged the ANC MPs who have previously spoken out against Zuma to follow through by voting against him.
“Vote for your hopes, Honourable Members, not your fears. Do the right thing. Vote with your conscience, and remove this corrupt and broken President from office,” he concluded.
EFF leader Julius Malema also appealed to individual ANC MPs to “write your own history” when they vote in the motion. “We are not here to remove a democratically elected government of the ANC ... ours today is not to remove the ANC but to remove the father of Duduzane,” he said in a fiery speech which went over his allocated time, breaching the rules of the National Assembly.
“We are not questioning whether the president has got powers to appoint Cabinet or reshuffle it; we have a problem with a Cabinet that is reshuffled by people who are not elected because if the Cabinet is reshuffled by the Guptas, then we know the president is no longer executing his responsibilities,” he said.
“We are rising against the Guptas who are reshuffling the Cabinet. We are rising against the Guptas who are appointing the boards [in the state-owned companies]. We are rising against those who have surrendered the people’s power to a family of foreigners. That’s what brings us here,” said Malema.
Bantu Holomisa, the man whose party, the United Democratic Movement, requested the secret ballot gave a soccer analogy, about how he had made a through pass and it was up to the ANC to score the goal.