Guest Column

How Zuma engineered the failed no-confidence vote

2017-08-10 08:44
President Jacob Zuma jubilates after surviving the no-confidence vote. (AP)

President Jacob Zuma jubilates after surviving the no-confidence vote. (AP)

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William Gumede

President Jacob Zuma’s dramatic survival of the motion of no confidence in Parliament on Tuesday strengthened his hand to engineer, just like Russian President Vladimir Putin, a proxy successor.  

Putin appointed his former deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as president in 2008 while he became prime minster, and Medvedev, after his term, swopped back into the presidency. 

Behind all Zuma’s political maneuvers has been his main strategy to lift a sympathetic successor, who would be able to protect him from prosecution for corruption when he steps down. He has been fearful that his enemies within and outside the ANC will prosecute him in the same way Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva has been successfully prosecuted for corruption after his presidential term. 

Zuma is desperately trying to get his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former African Union chairperson, to succeed him as ANC and South African president. This way, he reckons he would secure protection from prosecution of himself, his family and allies for alleged corruption.
Dlamini-Zuma is opposed by Zuma’s main rival, deputy president of the ANC and South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Zuma’s second term as ANC president comes to an end in December 2017, when the ANC holds its national conference, and his second term as president of the country ends in 2019, when South Africa holds its national elections. South Africa’s Constitution sets a two-term country presidential limit. There is no term limits on the ANC presidency, and Zuma can still stand for another term, although he has declared he will stand down as ANC leader. 

Zuma is facing at least 783 fraud, corruption and racketeering charges – with many more piling up, most of which has been stalled because of legal appeals by him, and him packing the prosecuting, police and intelligence agencies with pliant allies who have been unwilling to finalise the cases. 

Ramaphosa has now missed a crucial opportunity to rally ANC MPs in this motion of no confidence vote to get rid of Zuma. 
If the ANC MPs had voted to eject Zuma, Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete would have been obliged to call for the election of a new president by MPs, which was likely going to be an ANC candidate, because of the party’s majority, and Ramaphosa may have stood a better chance to be Zuma’s replacement. 

How did Zuma win the vote? He again in his typical style cynically played on the ANC’s internal liberation movement codes, customs and culture, and on the fears of ANC MPs. 

Zuma and his supporters successfully presented the motion of no confidence to ANC MPs as an attempt by the opposition parties to dislodge the ANC as a party, rather than him (Zuma), for his poor performance as president, through supposedly non-electoral means. 

ANC parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu said ahead of the vote that although ANC MPs have raised concerns over state capture, corruption and mismanagement under President Zuma, they will not support a motion of no confidence against the president that is sponsored by the opposition. 

Mthembu stated: “Because this opposition wants to remove the ANC government. Now, who in his right mind from the ANC desks would then assist such an opposition in removing its government?"

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, sponsored the motion of no confidence vote in Parliament to get the president to resign. 
In fact, among the biggest reason for the failure of accountability among leaders of African liberation movements turned government is their implicit assumption that members and supporters won’t be seen dead voting for the opposition – no matter how appallingly they govern.

Calling on false unity  

Furthermore, the ANC, like other African liberation movements, because they are organised almost like a sect, always puts the interests of the party, or the sect, above the interests of the country. 

The unity of the party or sect is paramount, even if it is false unity. The Zuma group successfully hinted to wavering ANC MPs that if he lost the vote, it could be break up the party, as he (Zuma) may have no option but to form his own party, as he has so often hinted at past meetings of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), when he had been challenged. 

Forming his own political party if ejected from the ANC, or if his handpicked successor does not get the top job, is a real option for Zuma, because, he may then with a new party, and a presumably weakened ANC, secure political power, and so neutralise efforts to prosecute him. 

Zuma also played on the current ANC leadership’s dominant perception of what democracy is. Many ANC leaders have a very narrow view of democracy, wrongly arguing that democracy only means a vote every five years, where governments and leaders are elected or ejected. In-between elections, they reason, the governing party and leaders have the right to control all power, because of their electoral victory. 

Yet, according to the constitutional democracy South Africa’s constitutional framers envisaged, election is only one way to hold government and leaders accountable, and to get rid of corrupt and ineffective, autocratic governments and leaders. Democratic institutions is another crucial mechanism beyond the elections to hold leaders and governments accountable and to eject them if they aren’t. 

The whole point therefore, in a constitutional democracy or any system which claims to be democratic, is that ordinary citizens can, apart from during elections, also through the parliamentary process get rid of unaccountable leaders and governments. 

If opposition parties, civil society and ordinary citizens sponsor motions to use Parliament to hold leaders and government accountable, it can therefore not be as Mthembu claimed, that they will be setting a “precedent where opposition politicians use Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils to remove democratically elected governments outside of elections”. 

In fact, in a substantial democracy, Parliament, legislatures and local councils are other crucial sites, in addition to elections, to hold accountable, and get rid of corrupt leaders and governments. 

The Zuma group emphasised the point – to great effect, that the opposition wanted to secure power supposedly through non-electoral means. 

A matter of survival

Finally, many ANC MPs are dependent on the party and its leadership for their living – because they have no jobs outside politics, are reliant if they are not MPs on jobs in the public sector, and are not employable in the private sector, unless it is through black economic empowerment (BEE) through state contracts. 

MPs therefore largely vote, not according to their conscience, or to protect the integrity of the party or democracy, but to protect their incomes. 
The Zuma group made much about the fact that if he lost the vote of no confidence, government would collapse, there would have to be a re-election of a president and new Cabinet; but that this could also open the way for opposition parties to call for new elections, whether through the parliamentary process or through the courts. 

This would mean that the ANC would’ve gone into the elections with the real prospect of losing. Many ANC MPs would then be without jobs, income and power – sooner, rather than in 2019. 

Nevertheless, Zuma’s victory was far too close: if those ANC members’ who stayed away and abstained from the voting on Tuesday had come to the party and voted against Zuma he would have been out – and he knows it. 

- William Gumede is Associate Professor at the Wits School of Governance and chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation. He is author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times.

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  no confidence vote  |  parliament  |  anc leadership race

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