South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma burnished his credentials as the country’s political survivor-in-chief by avoiding a vote of no confidence in parliament on Thursday.
It’s the third time Zuma has faced such a vote in less than a year. There were 214 votes against the motion, 126 for and 58 abstentions.
The motion was always unlikely to pass as the ANC had called on its members of parliament to back the President.
The pressure to stand down stems from a corruption report released late October by the public protector that alleges wide-ranging corruption at the highest levels of government including Zuma.
Zuma denies the allegations.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) brought the motion of no confidence to parliament.
Soaring words, political reality
“We are here to make a choice. The choice that we will make today will determine the future of all South Africa. Today we can choose corruption or we can choose opportunity for all,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA.
In a sometimes raucous session, opposition leaders repeatedly called on parliament to remove the President.
But the soaring words in parliament met political reality, with African National Congress (ANC) members of parliament voting in unison to block the move.
The ANC called the motion “ill-conceived” and defended Zuma’s record.
The 355-page State of Capture report contains allegations, and in some instances evidence, of cronyism, questionable business deals and ministerial appointments, and other possible large scale corruption at the very top of government.
The President, his son Duduzane Zuma, government ministers, the board of South Africa’s state power utility, Eskom, and the Gupta family — brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta — are all implicated in what the report said could be breaches of ethics codes and in some cases criminal allegations.
Duduzane Zuma, the Guptas, and Eskom’s CEO have all denied the claims.
The report recommended that Zuma appoint a commission of inquiry headed by a judge within 30 days to investigate the allegations.
Opposition groups, civil society and even members of the ANC have called on Zuma to resign.
Based on track record, it is the last thing Zuma is likely to do.
Facing scandal is nothing new for Zuma. He faces 783 charges of corruption relating to late 1990s arms deal that a court insists should move ahead. The prosecuting authority is appealing in the courts to avoid moving ahead and Zuma insists he is innocent.
In December 2015, he dropped respected finance minister Nlanhla Nene in December 2015 with a little-known backbencher.
It was a catastrophic — and likely political — move that wiped billions off the stock market and pummeled South Africa’s currency. Under intense pressure, Zuma reinstated Pravin Gordhan.
In March this year, Zuma was ordered to pay roughly $15 million for the public expenditure on his private homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal. The costs included a swimming pool and a chicken run.
The scathing judgment of the constitutional court ruled that Zuma violated the constitution.
Zuma welcomed the judgment while claiming he did nothing wrong wittingly.
Since taking office in 2009, Zuma has depended on loyal party members and grassroots support to weather each political scandal.
But Zuma is, perhaps, more vulnerable than ever.
In August, the ANC lost outright control of key cities including Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay in local elections, something unthinkable even a few years ago.
Senior ANC leaders publicly blame the losses on the public perception of Zuma’s presidency — the prospect of losing power in general elections in 2019 is a very real fear among them.
And the national prosecuting authorities initial moves to charge finance minister Pravin Gordhan for fraud, widely assumed to be trumped up and politically motivated, deeply shocked the general public and some senior ANC members. The charges were later dropped.
Perhaps most embarrassing to Zuma, though largely symbolic, is the open letter backing Gordhan from 101 ANC veterans, some of them contemporaries of Nelson Mandela.
“The trust between the ANC and communities‚ built over up over so many years, is now severely under threat,” they wrote.
The public protectors report calls for a judicial inquiry into the corruption allegations,that could give Zuma and his allies’ breathing room.
For the moment, the ANC in parliament is standing by Zuma in public, but they could be risking their own political future and the future of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
“A movement that’s stood for 104 years is crumbling and taking South Africa with it,” said Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a longtime opposition leader.