06/08/2017 20:36 SAST | Updated 07/08/2017 11:13 SAST

Jacob Zuma: Gone By Tuesday Night?

No chance, say those close to the fire.

South African President Jacob Zuma takes out files before a working session at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 8, 2017. 
Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters
South African President Jacob Zuma takes out files before a working session at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 8, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Activists with close knowledge of the African National Congress' (ANC) parliamentary caucus say that with or without the deployment of a secret ballot in Tuesday's eighth motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, it is unlikely to succeed.

The motion brought by Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), to oust Zuma needs to pass with a simple majority. This will require that, in addition to the full opposition party complement, 50 ANC MP's need to swing behind the motion.

Even with a groundswell of support for the no-confidence vote outside parliament, the yea's (those who support the motion) are unlikely to succeed, say analysts.

This is because:

  • South Africa's system of representation at national level is party-based, not constituency based and the party rules. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has called a three-line whip in the caucus which enforces presence and discipline for Tuesday's vote.
  • The current complement of ANC MP's is unlike the first cohort the governing party sent to the houses of parliament. With notable exceptions, they do not have options for livelihoods outside parliament that would offer the same income, so job security is a factor.
  • There is a view even among Zuma's detractors in the caucus that they are of more use inside the tent than outside it as dissenters. Commentators point to the new muscular position that parliament has taken on the SABC and the inquiry into the state capture, which has raised the spectre of the Gupta family being called before it.
  • If the motion succeeds, the ANC would be likely to remove those who vote in favour of the motion and this would pack the house with a higher complement of Zuma loyalists building support for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his favoured candidate to lead the ANC from December.
  • There is a real chance that the ANC could lose significant power if a snap election is held as must happen should the ANC be unable to decide who should become president post-Zuma within the constitutionally prescribed 30 days.
  • Zuma runs a gargantuan sized executive of 75 ministers and deputy ministers who will lose their jobs if he loses his. This adds to the risk of a successful no confidence motion.
  • The entire decision may return to court. While the Constitutional Court said the decision about whether or not to allow a secret ballot rests with the speaker, it entreated her to make the decision independently, rationally and with the requirement of accountability top of mind. The EFF has already briefed lawyers to take the speaker straight to two courts if she does not allow a secret ballot, which would give ANC MP's the space to vote their conscience rather than their party membership without risk of censure.

In the latest approval ratings by market research firm Ipsos, released at the end of May, Zuma tanked to his lowest level ever measured.

"The rating of President Zuma was 2.8 out of 10. This is the lowest score obtained by any president ever measured in this study since 1993 and is a relatively lower figure than the average of 4.0 expressed for the president in November 2016," says Mari Harris, political analyst and director of public affairs at Ipsos.

"This low rating confirms the steady downward slope of the president's approval rating since the start of his second term in office as president of South Africa."

In addition, the survey also found that 54 per cent of ANC party members it canvassed within its respondents' pool wanted the president to step down. The ANC can pick up its support during a long election campaign, but a snap election could be a disaster for the party. Mthembu warned on Friday that removing Zuma would hit South Africa like a "nuclear bomb".

In addition, the South African Communist Party (SACP) bloc within the ANC's parliamentary caucus is unlikely to support the motion as it believes the governing party should recall Zuma rather than have him voted out by parliament. The SACP supports itself by tithing its members in Cabinet to pay a portion of their salaries to keep the party going. It risks losing this endowment if its members support the motion and everyone loses their jobs.


Meanwhile, forces to support the president are mustering furiously. On Sunday the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Associations (MKMVA) said it would march with the ANC to counter the civil society protest planned for Monday and Tuesday. MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus resorted to capital letters and exclamation marks to instruct ANC MP's like this: "NO ANC DEPLOYED MP CAN HAVE A SECRET VOTE – NOR VOTE AGAINST THE ANC – THEY REPRESENT US AND THEY MUST ACCOUNT TO US!"

In Durban, traditional leaders and the Interfaith Council announced a march in Zuma's KwaZulu-Natal heartland on Monday. "The National Interfaith Council and Amakhosi denounce the plan to oust a democratically elected government in our country . . . we are committed to serve God's people with loyalty and to shield them from the narrow agendas aimed at plunging our country into disaster."

All other major religious groups have aligned with the protests aimed at getting ANC MP's to support the no-confidence motion on Tuesday. The Mother City is in the grip of another mass mobilisation effort to protest against Zuma since the April marches to oppose the axing of former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas.