POLITICS

No Confidence: Our Senior Editors Have A Major Difference Of Opinion

Pieter du Toit argues the number of ANC dissidents who voted for the opposition is big news. Ferial Haffajee doesn't agree.

09/08/2017 00:31 SAST | Updated 09/08/2017 11:40 SAST
POOL New / Reuters
Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan listens during the motion of no confidence against South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Wessels/Pool

A large chunk of ANC MPs voted alongside the opposition. It's big, says Pieter du Toit:

Caucus discipline in the African National Congress (ANC) is ironclad.

The party has since 1994 maintained a flawless record of being able to whip MPs into line when it mattered and has never been faced with an internal revolt.

It was in lock-step when the joint investigative task team reported back to Parliament on the arms deal in the early 2000's, with only one MP -- Andrew Feinstein -- defying the whippery.

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Voting stations are set up during the motion of no confidence against South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Wessels/Pool

Professor Ben Turok, as independent-minded as they come, could merely stay away rather than vote against the draconian first iteration of the infamous secrecy bill.

And many an SABC board has been rammed through the National Assembly thanks to an ANC bloc vote, even though many MPs privately disagreed with the party.

The result of Tuesday's vote on the motion of no confidence put forward by the Democratic Alliance (DA) has undoubtedly come as a shock to Jackson Mthembu, the party's chief whip, and Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general. The party declared a three-line whip for the vote, which means all the whips took great care in ensuring that every single ANC MP is press-ganged into being on time for the vote and that everybody understands exactly how they should cast their ballot. Mantashe himself delivered a stern warning hours before the National Assembly convened. The ANC, taking into account vacant seats and MPs who got permission to be absent, could call on roughly 245 votes. It failed to muster a majority.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Seen from a different angle: it wouldn't even have been able to pass an amendment supporting the president -- 201 votes are needed to do so.

The opposition -- with every seat filled, every vote cast and in a perfect world -- is able to muster 151 votes. Speculation is that the ANC snaffled nine opposition votes, six from the National Freedom Party and three from the African Independent Congress. That takes the tally down to 142. The DA had two MPs missing on Tuesday, which reduces the number even further, to 140 votes. That means as much as 37 ANC MPs could have voted with the opposition to reach the number of 177 votes. If the whole of the opposition voted for the motion -- including the aforementioned nine dissidents -- at least 28 ANC MPs supported the motion. That's a quite significant number of MPs who decided to break with their party amid intense lobbying and even worse intimidation. It's bigger than the size of Julius Malema's entire contingent.

The vote is a win for Zuma, but it has opened fissures in the once impenetrable behemoth that used to be the ANC.

Nope, the numbers don't lie and you're clutching at straws, Ferial Haffajee counters:

I can't see any way to read the outcome of the sixth motion of no confidence as anything other than a resounding victory for President Jacob Zuma.

While some ANC members of Parliament believed the moment had arrived to rid the party of a president who has come to symbolise the capture of the state, the numbers don't back that up.

Less than 10 percent of the ANC caucus voted for accountability, against rampant corruption and the causes of an economy in a tailspin.

POOL New / Reuters
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader Mmusi Maimane speaks during the motion of no confidence against South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Wessels/Pool

While my WhatsApp chats are full of people calling this a moral defeat for President Zuma and saying the outcome was close, what does the data actually tell us?

The outcome is that 177 MPs voted for the motion of no confidence in Zuma while 198 voted against it.

For the motion to succeed, the ANC caucus had to double up the numbers who supported the motion. The outcome is, by anyone's calculation, a fail.

Yes, the highest numbers of members voted for a motion of no confidence since the season of six motions of no confidence started, but the increase in that tally is incremental and not existential.

These results are: 113, 99, 126, 43 and now 177 votes for the motion of no confidence. In one of the motions, the ANC successfully changed the motion from no confidence to resounding confidence and then it voted 242 for the motion.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Pro-Zuma supporters celebrate after the vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma failed in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Another friend points out that the support for the president has slipped beneath the psychological 200 mark in the National Assembly -- the complement of MPs in the house is 400.

It's an argument that grasps at straws. Instead, the ANC caucus has given its stamp of approval to the Gupta family's ravaging of public enterprises and the sovereignty of the state.

And it has given its stamp of approval to a president who has dragged his country's reputation, its sense of itself and its economy, through the mud.