​The vote of no confidence was more about ANC internal divisions than its popularity with voters

The ANC is facing a deep internal crisis that reached its crescendo in Parliament during the motion of no confidence in the President. But even at its most divided, it can easily win the next elections because its opposition is not that strong, writes SIYABONGA P. HADEBE 

During last week’s vote of no confidence vote, 384 out of 400 Members of Parliament of 400 cast their votes. This means that 16 were absent: five National Assembly seats are vacant, two MPs are in hospitals, two other MPs didn’t vote although present, there’s one death, and it’s unknown what happened to the remaining six.

The overall result of the vote is that those who supported the no confidence motion got 177 votes, and there were 198 against.

As we all know, this outcome favoured ANC president Jacob Zuma, who has now survived eight such attempts to remove him as the President of South Africa.

However, there seems to be a view that a 16 votes margin between the victors and losers indicates that the ANC support has dropped from 64% to 49%. Indeed, 49% of the house supported Zuma but the ANC still holds 64% of the 400 seats in the national assembly.

As it is always the case in the game of numbers, it is easier to misrepresent or misquote figures to advance a certain position.

For example, the fact that the ANC did not have its full representation of 249 MPs supporting its president, for some is an indication that the ANC’s support was on the decline and that this was an important measure of how the party is likely to perform in the 2019 general elections.

At face value, they seem to suggest that ANC was on the ropes but the truth is that this ‘decline’ has nothing to do with the organisation’s public support. The issue, however, is more a reflection of the dynamics within the party – factionalism rears its ugly head in Parliament as it has done in other avenues. Notwithstanding that the likes of the SACP and other Zuma detractors committed not to act against the ANC during the no confidence vote, the reality is that the damage now goes far deeper than anything.

Someone suggests that “before that, the vote in 2014 gave the ANC 62%, [but] today’s votes add up to 49%. As already indicated this view is problematic because it uses a straight line method.

Let me clarify this point even further. The 64% came from a popular vote, which is entirely different from the new percentage (which I refuse to call 49% since we are not comparing apples with apples). The 49% has nothing to do with the 2014 vote but it is an indication of divisions within the ANC.

To support this view, this number could soon change if Luthuli decides to purge all those who failed to tow the party line. For example, Gwede Mantashe and company can replace them with JZ-friendly MPs to restore the 100% support for the President.

The drop could be artificial but very risky at the same time as the ANC MPs decided “to abandon their stations” to vote with the opposition.

There is a serious problem in breaking down the votes to reflect ANC support at 198 out of 400 seats in Parliament as if the entire National Assembly is made up only of ANC members. Also, when Parliament elected Zuma as President after the elections, he did not get 100% of the vote. The ANC simply messed up its majority in Parliament instead.

Meaning that it is only 198 ANC representatives out of 249 who toe the party line. On the other hand, the 26 MPs, (or 35, including those who abstained) who did not ‘show up’ or voted with the opposition, are those who no longer represent their organisation obviously, irrespective of whether we see them as having a “conscience” as big as the heart of a blue whale. The truants no longer belongs to the organisation that selected them to Parliament. They no longer share its vision since they failed to carry the mandate forward.

It is one thing to debate the merits of what the likes of Makhosi Khoza, Mondli Gungubele, Derek Hanekom and Pravin Gordhan stand for in their confrontational stance against the President and the party. In most cases, you will be forced out if you bring the organisation into disrepute irrespective of whether your views are correct or not. It is therefore up to the ANC how it decides to deal with “suicide bombers”, as social media refers to the ANC MPs who supported Zuma’s removal yesterday.

The ANC still holds 249 of the 400 seats in Parliament. Nothing has changed in its allocation. Internal divisions, however, threaten the party’s position in Parliament because not all 249 members pull in the same direction. It may have been the contentious issue of the position of the President that showed us the cracks last week, but tomorrow it may be something else such as voting on an important issue.

The ANC clearly has to deal with the problem head on rather paper-coating it as if all is well. Imagine if Luthuli House makes up its mind on topical issues including land, the Reserve Bank and other issues concerning the economy. It is likely that such motions would fail because of the clique of MPs who work with the opposition to push a specific agenda.

The cracks obviously go beyond the disagreements over the President and his relationship with the Gupta family. The ANC is a divided house, and it will take an Albert Einstein to develop a solution that can unite the warring parties. Therefore, the conclusion is that the no confidence vote has serious consequences for the ANC going forward. It was a big litmus test for how the December elective conference is likely to take shape.

Could we see another mass exodus again by suicide bombers at year end to create another COPE? Probably yes.

The only problem, however, is that those who do not like Msholozi don’t seem to be in control of party structures. Should they decide to ‘secede’, they will face the same fate as Patrick Lekota and Sam Shilowa, political wilderness. In that regard, the ANC is likely to emerge from the conference even more divided but without anyone brave enough to form a new party. Despite the threats, the SACP will also not go alone.

Forget the narrative that the ANC will lose 2019 elections.

Opposition politics in South Africa is in doldrums under the leadership of kindergarten politicians who continuously show signs of immaturity. Therefore, a limping ANC will still win elections because it has a weak opposition which prefers judicial intervention to playing politics.

If the likes of the EFF and DA don’t change their stance on courts, even a ‘sick’ ANC will not be challenged by anyone.

Hadebe is an economic, political and social commentator 

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