As President Jacob Zuma survives the most nail biting motion of no confidence in him, the eighth one of his tenure, the question to now pose is: Will the ANC survive him?
It was always evident that the party would close ranks around him, secret ballot and rebel MPs notwithstanding. In previous debates of this nature – especially earlier ones – speakers on the ANC side would fall over themselves to extoll Zuma’s virtues. It was not the case this time around. Those who spoke on behalf of the ANC dispensed with the praise, showing the opposition and South Africa that this was about the survival of the ANC rather than saving Zuma
What does this tell us about the ruling party? That no matter how divided it is and how unhappy many of its members may be about the direction their party has taken, it will never allow the opposition to dictate to it what do with errant leaders. When the ANC wants to see the back of a leader, it takes action at party and not parliamentary level. What happened to former President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 will always be a reminder.
There were many things that were different about this latest motion, though. It took place against a groundswell of not just public anger, but deep internal dissatisfaction over how Zuma has managed the country. A litany of scandals has been the overarching theme of his tenure. His problematic relationship with the Gupta family and revelations of how that family has benefited from its close proximity to power proved to be the last straw for many in and outside the ANC.
His grip on the ANC and on the country is loosening by the day. Five years ago it would have been unthinkable for serving party MPs to go on national platforms and openly call for his resignation. They would be out of the door fast. That the ANC can tolerate Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan, Mondli Gungubele and Derek Hanekom’s defiant stance this long, speaks volumes about where the power balance is shifting to.
Zuma has three months left of his ANC presidency so he is no longer the invisible enigma he was all those years. His endorsement of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor of choice is proving a slow kiss of death rather than an injection of support. Their faction had a torrid time at the national policy conference in July, losing almost all the policy positions they were expecting to have endorsed by branches. Provinces that were resolute in their block support for Zuma back in the day – especially KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State – are now divided the down the middle.
His flaws notwithstanding, it would have taken something extraordinary for the opposition to force him out through a Parliamentary vote – secret or open. The 50 plus votes that opposition members needed to make this happen were always going to be a tall order. EFF leader Julius Malema was confident that they would secure at least 60 votes from ANC MPs in support of the motion if they secured a secret ballot. The Speaker, with the guidance of the Constitutional Court, acceded to the request.
In his speech, Malema was at pains to explain to the opposite side of the House that the motion was not about taking the ANC out of power but removing a flawed Zuma from office. DA leader Mmusi Maimane made the same appeal, imploring ANC MPs not to view this as a DA motion but one that would save the country from corruption, state capture and mismanagement.
In the end, the result was tight. Of the 384 votes cast, the motion was supported by 177 MPs as opposed to the 198 who voted against it. There were nine abstentions. That the motion was defeated by just 21 votes in a House where the ANC has a majority of almost 100 seats (vacant seats and absentees notwithstanding) speaks volumes about the crisis of leadership in the ruling party.
Zuma has survived what is probably the last motion of no confidence the opposition will ever bring against him. If his preferred faction does not win at the elective conference in December, he will be pushed out by the ANC itself before he even concludes the Presidential term in 2019. Should he succeed to engineer a Dlamini-Zuma victory, his faction will come back more buoyant. They will flush out the remainder of the rebels from the National Assembly to avoid a repeat of today when for a long time they were unsure if a significant portion of ANC MPs would turn on Zuma or not.
That victory, however, will come at a heavy price. There will be a backlash from the South African public angry at how the party has constantly shielded its leader from accountability. Should a ‘winner takes all’ philosophy apply in December at the elective conference, the losing faction could breakaway, weakening the ANC even further. It will contest the 2019 elections heavily crippled.
Zuma, the proverbial cat with nine lives might live once more, but this was a pyrrhic victory for his faction. His survival will take a heavy toll on the ANC. The party might not survive him.