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S.Africa’s Zuma under fire in parliament no-confidence debate

Beleaguered South African President Jacob Zuma came under heated attack in parliament Tuesday as he faced a no-confidence motion for the second time in less than a year.

The outpouring of criticism came on the same day that his lawyers fought a high court battle to prevent the reinstatement of corruption charges against him.

Pressure has mounted on the president against the background of an economic crisis sparked by his firing of two finance ministers within days in December.

“Our president’s quest for power has never been about creating a more prosperous South Africa,” the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, told parliament.

“It has always been about creating a more prosperous Jacob Zuma.”

The no-confidence vote, called by the DA, says Zuma’s “irrational, irresponsible and reckless leadership has done immeasurable damage to the economy”.

Maimane told parliament that the country was going through its most difficult period since the end of apartheid 22 years ago.

Unemployment is running at 25 percent and the economy is forecast to grow less than one percent this year.

“Every one of the 8.2 million unemployed citizens in our country feels a sense of betrayal,” Maimane said.

South Africa’s president is elected by parliament and if a majority of members support the no-confidence motion he is obliged to resign, along with his cabinet.

The motion is highly unlikely to succeed, however, as Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) has an overwhelming majority in parliament, with 62 percent of the seats.

– Local elections loom –

The DA is also pursuing an attempt in the High Court in Pretoria to reinstate charges of corruption against Zuma which were dropped in 2009, shortly before he became president.

The charges, which relate to a multi-billion dollar arms deal signed in 1999, were dropped allegedly because of interference in the prosecution case by his political opponents.

A statement from the presidency described the court proceedings as “an abuse of process by a political party in order to advance a political agenda”.

The ANC has also described the DA’s no-confidence motion as “a frivolous stunt” designed to divert public attention from “the racism scandals embarrassing the party on an ongoing basis”.

The DA is seen as the political home of many South African whites after the end of apartheid, and the ANC has stepped up its attacks on alleged racism in the party ahead of municipal elections later this year.

Maimane said the more obvious Zuma’s failures became, “the more the ANC plays the race card to deflect legitimate criticism”.

“It cannot be that if you are white and you don’t agree with the ANC, you are called a racist, and if you are black, you are called a sell-out,” he said.

Maimane went on to ask how a party once led by liberation icon and racial reconciliator Nelson Mandela “has been reduced to this”.

While Zuma, who was not present in parliament, is expected to easily survive the no-confidence debate, analysts say heavy losses for the ANC in the municipal elections could turn the party against the president.

“There’s nowadays dissident voices in the ANC. The support of Zuma is weaker but not to the point of collapse,” Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand told AFP.

“If the ANC suffers badly in local elections it could be a signal they can’t approach national elections (in 2019) with him in charge.”

One of the major scandals surrounding Zuma before the financial crisis was the spending of $23 million of taxpayers money on upgrades to his rural home at Nkandla.

For two years Zuma resisted demands by the Public Protector, the national ombudsman, to repay some of the money, before his lawyers conceded in court last month that he was obliged to pay.

Zuma will have completed two terms in 2019 and is not eligible to run for president again, but if opposition to him continues to mount, the party could replace him ahead of the vote.