Eight opposition parties in South Africa have tabled a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma â€“ a move unprecedented in the country’s 18-year democratic history.
Political analysts described the attempt to force Zuma’s resignation as largely symbolic since the dominant African National Congress (ANC) is bound to vote it down, but it reflects growing disaffection in the country at large.
“The South African people are bearing witness to the emergence of a government and a country different to that envisaged by President Nelson Mandela and those who fought to liberate South Africa from oppression and ushered in a new democratic order in 1994,” the parties said in a joint statement.
They cited a series of setbacks that have blighted what was meant to be a year of celebration of the ANC’s centenary, including the police massacre of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana and the so-called “Nkandlagate” scandal over the spending of taxpayer millions on Zuma’s private residence.
The government’s failure to deliver textbooks to schoolchildren in Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces, the downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating by two major ratings agencies and mounting disrespect for the constitution and judiciary were also given as reasons.
Combined with growing unemployment and “the uncontrollable and rising tide of corruption in the public service”, all of these collectively point to “the reality that ours is a country which lacks decisive leadership and vision,” the parties said.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, veteran leader of the Inkatha Freedom party (IFP), said the decision to support the motion had not been easy for him or his party. “Since we achieved liberation in April 1994, the IFP has done its best to support all presidents of South Africa, because we understood that even though we did not vote for them, they carry the responsibility of making our country succeed; and if they fail, we fail,” he said. “However, we have reached a point at which we can no longer support this president.”
There has been increasing criticism of Zuma within the ranks of the ANC and by its expelled youth leader, Julius Malema. This week saw the launch of a “forces of change” website before an ANC internal leadership contest next month, where Zuma could face a challenge from his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance, who tabled the motion, said the parties are seeking the support of ANC MPs who oppose Zuma’s bid for a second term and pushing for a secret ballot. “We want to give the opportunity to those members of the ANC who want to search their conscience and make a decision about whether they want to re-elect President Zuma for another term, or allow him to continue what we see as a failed term,” she said.
But with the ANC holding 264 of the 400 seats in parliament, the opposition would need a dramatic rebellion on the ANC benches. The motion is more likely to rally MPs around the president and may even strengthen his hand. The office of Mathole Motshekga, the ANC chief whip, declared its resolve to “quash any frivolous and narrow publicity-seeking gimmicks masquerading as motions” by opposition parties.
It added: “The motion by a group of opposition parties is not based on any fact or evidence, and therefore amounts to nothing but character assassination. In our view, it is a waste of parliament’s time; a playful, silly publicity stunt and therefore belongs to the rubbish bin.”
Parliament’s programme committee, chaired by speaker Max Sisulu, will decide if and when the motion should be debated.
Commentators applauded the opposition’s bold but doomed initiative. Prince Mashele of the Centre for Politics and Research said: “It’s not going to damage the president or change anything essentially. But I think it’s a smart move. There have been many embarrassing scandals and there has been no sign that members of the ANC give a damn, so this plants a seed of desperation on the part of those who won’t stand by while it’s happening.”
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