08/08/2017 19:23 SAST | Updated 08/08/2017 19:23 SAST

The ANC Saves Its President To Lose Itself -- Ferial Haffajee

Has the ANC won but lost?

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
African National Congress (ANC) president,Jacob Zuma (2nd R) waves to his supporters as he arrives for the parties traditional Siyanqoba rally ahead of the August 3 local municipal elections in Johannesburg, South Africa July 31, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Jacob Zuma survived his sixth motion of no confidence on Tuesday but the ANC may not survive in power with him at the helm.

Zuma survived the motion of no confidence with 177 yes votes, 198 no votes and 9 abstentions.

Zuma's approval ratings are down the drain and the ANC polled at below a simple majority in July surveys taken by Ipsos.

The ANC has once won a two-thirds majority in post-apartheid South Africa's elections and it generally polls just over 60 percent of total votes cast.

If it were election day, the ANC would lose
This means that if an election were held today, the ANC would not be able to govern on its own.

Ipsos director Mari Harris notes that these numbers do not filter for registered voters and she says the polls also reveal that the opposition parties don't automatically inherit from the ANC's loss. Most people polled who would withhold their vote from the ANC will choose to stay-away from an election.

As Zuma has stumbled through eight scandals through his eight-year presidency, the ANC's moral and political authority has been squandered. Its character as a movement of the people lost as it settled on the narrow identity of protecting only party and president on Tuesday.

A coup d'etat or an accountability mechanism
In the debate on the motion of no confidence, a skittish ANC likened it to a coup d'etat and regime change by stealth by the opposition parties who brought the motion. All the ANC speakers in yesterday's debate defended the ANC rather than the president. Their role as representatives of the people who voted for them did not factor into their speeches even though public opprobrium against corruption and state capture is at fever pitch.

Millions of South Africans have engaged a strategy of rolling mass action against corruption since Zuma fired both former finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan.

By comparing the motion of no confidence to a coup d'etat, the ANC is at odds with how the Constitutional Court defined it in its seminal judgment on whether or not today's vote should be held by secret ballot.

The court said the decision rests with the Speaker of the National Assembly but it laid out ambient definitions of what a no confidence motion means in a democracy and set out in detail whether members of parliament represent their parties or the people.

The party or the people
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng made a profound point in his June finding.

"Public office, in any of the three arms, comes with a lot of power," he wrote, adding, "The powers and resources assigned to each of these arms do not belong to the public office-bearers who occupy positions of high authority therein.

They are therefore not to be used for the advancement of personal or sectarian interests...state power, the land and its wealth all belong to 'we the people' united in our diversity. These servants are supposed to exercise the power and control these enormous resources at the beck and call of the people."

Mogoeng said a motion of no confidence is a potent tool toward realising the vision of the Constitution. "A motion of no confidence therefore exists to strengthen regular and less 'fatal' accountability and oversight mechanisms."

Motion of no confidence fails and the Gupta's prevail

In the end, the no confidence motion was not fatal and President Zuma survived. Despite all the revelations of state capture spearheaded by the President's patrons, the Gupta family have prevailed. The message to South Africans is that there is no accountability to the people and that we are in the vortex of corruption.