South Africa’s scandal-hit President Jacob Zuma faced a no-confidence vote in parliament Thursday, with the main opposition party calling on ruling ANC lawmakers to vote him out of office.
Zuma, who looked certain to survive the vote despite mounting anger within his own party, last week came under further pressure after a corruption probe raised fresh allegations of misconduct.
“To put it plainly, we can choose Jacob Zuma, or we can choose South Africa,” Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance opposition party, told parliament.
“Many of you have been speaking out against him in recent weeks… I know that there are men and women in these ANC benches who want to do the right thing.”
But Zuma, 74, who came to power in 2009, retains strong loyalty among ANC (Africa National Congress) lawmakers and many party activists, particularly in rural areas.
The Democratic Alliance tabled the no-confidence motion accusing Zuma of wreaking “havoc on our infant democracy”.
The no-confidence vote will be the third in under a year, with the first two easily defeated by the ANC’s majority in parliament.
The corruption report by the country’s top watchdog raised accusations of possible criminal activity in Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas, a business family accused of wielding undue political influence.
It included allegations that the Guptas offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas a $44 million (40 million euros) bribe, which he said he refused.
Increasing numbers of anti-apartheid veterans, ANC activists, trade unions, civil groups and business leaders have called for Zuma to resign.
But the ANC leadership scoffed at the no-confidence vote, describing it as “ritualistic” and “founded on spurious allegations and narrow political motives”.
– ‘More powerful than the ANC itself’ –
The ANC, which has ruled since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, has seen its popularity dive, with local polls in August delivering its worst-ever result.
Zuma’s term in office ends in 2019, but the ANC is due to elect a new party leader at the end of next year and could then decide to replace him as head of state.
South Africa’s highest court this year found the president guilty of violating the constitution after he refused to repay taxpayers’ money used to refurbish his private rural house.
He is also fighting a court order that could reinstate almost 800 corruption charges against him over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
Despite the groundswell of protest and deep divisions in the ANC, Thursday’s vote in parliament posed no threat to Zuma, said Wits University professor Patrick Bond.
“The key people in the ANC are very supportive of Zuma,” he said.
The Business Day newspaper described Zuma as “back firmly in the saddle” after surviving the latest storm of criticism.
“Zuma has grown bigger and more powerful than the ANC itself,” wrote commentator Carol Paton.
When he leaves office, the three leading possible successors are his ex-wife African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.