Arthur Christopher

DA has no interest in removing President Zuma

2016-11-17 12:45

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Last week the DA (again) tabled a debate and vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in Parliament. Following a typically boisterous debate the motion was unsurprisingly squashed, with 214 MPs voting against it, and 126 MPs supporting it. Notably, 58 MPs did not vote (35 of them ANC MPs).

In the wake of the debate DA leaders have accused ANC MPs of acting without conscience, and showing, in the words of DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, “spineless” deference to a compromised president. The DA claimed in the build-up to the debate that its intentions in placing such motions before the National Assembly are entirely noble; that the party acts purely in the broader public interest. Indeed, DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s speech in Parliament last week was titled “Let’s put our country first”, in which he claimed that “today we have a chance to show that, on Team South Africa, we want what’s best for our country”; and that “you, the people, matter more than politicians”. Further to this, soon after the vote was concluded former DA leader Helen Zille took to Twitter to claim that: “The Zuma collective may have won. But South Africa lost”, as a result of the ANC’s rejection of the DA’s motion.

The DA’s claim here is clear and consistent: the party hopes to be seen as the champion of the national cause – the self-appointed captain of “Team South Africa”, which uses its parliamentary presence to agitate for the kind of change it believes to better reflect the Constitution’s core values.

This, however, is an elaborate ruse. For what is “best for our country” is not, at least for now, what is best for the DA. The DA knew that its motion last week, as on the prior occasions it has tabled similar motions, would fail. But what the party cannot admit is that it wanted, indeed needed it, to fail.

For on the most primal political level, the DA has no interest in seeing Zuma removed prematurely from office. Such a departure would potentially pave the way for a less morally and legally compromised leader to assume the helm of the ANC and state, and would deprive the DA of the ability to leap to the defence of the institutions (in the “national interest”) that Zuma has so consistently attacked throughout his time in office. The presence of Zuma presents the DA with an on-going opportunity to berate the ANC for its sliding moral core, its disregard for the rule of law, and the recklessness with which economic certainty is compromised at the altar of political expedience. With Zuma at the helm of the ANC and state the DA (and the opposition more generally) doesn’t need to earn the moral high ground in Parliament – it simply assumes it in the absence of political competition for the same.

Without Zuma in office the DA’s task in drawing attention to its relative political advantages would be far more challenging. It would have to articulate its own set of policies, engineer a practical vision for the economy (which it has yet to do), and find a way to resolve its deep internal ideological dilemma with regards to the official line it is able to assume on policies of racial economic redress. This is an arduous an uncertain path to electoral success – and the DA needn’t travel it while Zuma continues to offer them such frequent and convenient political leverage.

The DA knows this, and it is nervous about its electoral prospects in a post-Zuma world. This is why its call last week for a motion of no confidence debate, as when it called for a similar debate following the March Constitutional Court judgment against the president, was so cynical, and yet simultaneously politically astute. For the intention of these motions was not to see the president removed, but to provide another platform for the DA to assert its opposing credentials, while simultaneously hobbling the very real momentum building against the president from within the ANC and tripartite alliance by forcing the party to again rally to its – and the president’s – public defence. Many of the “spineless lot” (of ANC MPs) that voted against the DA’s motion had no choice but to do so, regardless of their personal and moral standing. There isn’t a political party in the world that would allow its sitting leader to be deposed by its most vigorous political opposition. Any change has to come from within the ANC – as slow and grinding a process as this may be. And in forcing those ANC MPs it knows to be battling for a degree of party “reform” to again attach themselves to the president by voting against his removal, the DA hopes to bolster its claim that “Jacob Zuma is the ANC; and the ANC is Jacob Zuma”.

The DA wants the ANC to sink with its current president – it wants to smother the movement for ANC reform, and drag down the credibility of the state and party officials driving this change. For if it fails to do so and the ANC is capable of finding some of its lost purpose; of regaining trust in the country’s urban areas; and of rebuilding its relationship with business the DA will undeniably suffer – inevitably ceding both Johannesburg and Tshwane back to the ruling party, and seeing its national support flat-line at around one-quarter (at most) of the electorate. The DA’s suburban voter axis would not necessarily shift their allegiance to (or back to) the ANC, but they would be less likely to bother to vote at all. They would be less easily galvanised by the collective anger that Zuma’s conduct inspires in them to turn up on voting day.

Sure, the ANC may not be capable of genuinely reforming, but it is certainly in the national interest that it does – that ANC leaders that have so robustly aligned around Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and against Zuma, over the course of this year find greater expression as the party trundles towards its next elective conference. The DA seeks to prevent this from happening, and its strategy in doing so was in clear view last week. This is a smart political play, but we should not allow ourselves to be duped into believing that its intentions are as they say they are.

It is not the DA that will “save” the country, nor is it the DA which we should look to for leadership of “Team South Africa”. For this we must look within the ANC and the alliance for the embers of genuine resistance to the party’s worrying course; to civil society, which mobilises with a far more genuine desire for immediate change than the political opposition; and to leaders from within the state and across the business community, for whom the country’s worrying economic passage is a constant and pressing institutional risk.

* Arthur Christopher is a political analyst, a defiantly liberal corporate apparatchik and a part-time offensive midfielder.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  no confidence vote  |  da
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