08/08/2017 18:55 SAST | Updated 08/08/2017 19:04 SAST

Ferial Haffajee: How Jacob Zuma Survived

President Zuma is a cat with more than nine lives. Here is how he does it.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.
Rogan Ward / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.

That President Jacob Zuma survived the motion of no confidence is not surprising. Zuma is South Africa's greatest survivor and he has done it again.

Parliament voted 177 (yes) to 198 (no) to keep the president in office, despite unprecedented popular unhappiness at growing and rampant corruption and the daily revelations of sleaze in the #Guptaleaks.

Since Zuma axed former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas at the end of March, millions have marched, calling for the president's removal.

Read: The Man With Eight Lives: The Scandals Zuma Outmanoeuvred Over 22 Years

The ANC headquarters achieved this voting outcome by casting votes for the motion as "sellouts" and it also tapped into a deep vein of loyalty among ANC members. The party would not countenance its president going down to a motion brought by the opposition. It compared the motion variously as an attempted "coup d''état, a "regime change agenda" and as the work of Satan.

The ANC tapped into a deep vein of loyalty among members.

Instead, sources in the ANC caucus say a deal has been done. Some allege the president will resign in 30 days or say the party will recall him -- the SA Communist Party has pegged its red flag to this option. It wants Zuma gone, but only by the hand of the governing party.

Other groups claim that Zuma will fire Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Zwane is risking the mining industry and was allegedly deployed by the Gupta family. He did not consult the ANC before passing the latest iteration of the mining charter which is now before the courts.

How did the president achieve this? He did it through years of work cultivating loyalties and constituencies. Since taking office in 2009, Zuma has returned power to the party. The ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg is the centre of power while under former President Thabo Mbeki, power resided at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Some allege the president will resign in 30 days or say the party will recall him.

The party is at odds with Zuma about the detail and extent of state capture contained in the #GuptaLeaks emails. It feels usurped by the Gupta family, which has become the centre of deployment. The family has been shown to make Cabinet and other appointments to help grow their massive business empire.

But, under Zuma, Luthuli House is still the political centre of gravity. Mantashe is like a prime minister and his weekly briefings are like occasions of state. If Zuma goes, this party power is placed at risk.

Then, Zuma also cultivates personal loyalties by using his appointment powers. He has ballooned the size of the civil service and also the executive. The South African public service is, by proportion, one of the larger by global standards. This has earned Zuma significant patronage.

He has also nurtured provincial support by elevating the premiers of favoured provinces to positions of significant influence.

North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza and Free State premier Ace Magashula are called the Premier League and they act as a bulwark for Zuma with the party's provincial chairperson in KwaZulu-Natal Sihle Zikalala.

Zuma also cultivates personal loyalties by using his appointment powers.

These support bases are stacked into the executive and the ANC national executive committee to build a bulletproof buffer zone for Zuma. This is why he has successfully beaten off successive intra-party motions of no confidence and calls for him to step down.

And they are stacked into the back benches of parliament where the president is ensured an easy ride even though a significant body of conscientious objectors built up ahead of the vote.

ANC MP's Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan, Mondli Gungubele and Derek Hanekom have become the faces of the intra-ANC battle against state capture and corruption; but what is clear they are a small minority in the larger caucus.