Nzimande on Cabinet chopping block following no-confidence vote

President Jacob Zuma.
President Jacob Zuma.

Johannesburg - South African President Jacob Zuma indicated that ruling party lawmakers who backed an opposition attempt to oust him should face disciplinary action and said he may consider firing Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who has criticised his leadership.

More than two dozen members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) backed a motion of no confidence in the president on August 8, which the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) filed after he unilaterally fired his respected finance minister and two ratings companies responded by downgrading the country’s debt to junk.

While the motion was defeated by 198 votes to 177, Zuma said “anything could have happened.”

“The ANC was put into serious disrepute” by its lawmakers who refused to toe the party line, Zuma said at an ANC gathering in Parys in the central Free State province. “Nobody can say they did not know” what they were supposed to do, he said.

A former intelligence operative who has ruled Africa’s largest economy since 2009, Zuma has been implicated in a succession of scandals, including a finding by the nation’s top court that he violated his oath of office by refusing to repay money spent on his private home.

While he has clung to office because he continues to enjoy the backing of most of the ANC’s top leaders, who are reliant on him for their jobs in the government and cabinet, his missteps have cost the ANC support and left the party deeply divided.

Secret ballot

The August 8 vote against Zuma (75) was conducted by secret ballot, and with only a handful of ANC lawmakers having openly stated they would vote in favour of his ouster, the party will battle to identify all those who broke ranks. The matter will be raised at a meeting of the party’s top six leaders at a meeting on Monday, Zuma said.

Zuma also said he would consider a suggestion raised by one of the delegates who attended the gathering to replace Nzimande, who is also the general secretary of the South African Communist Party - an ally of the ANC that has called for the president’s removal.

Zuma is due to step down as head of the ANC in December and as president in 2009. He alleged that Western countries intent on destabilising emerging economies were behind the attempts to bring about his early removal.

“Part of what is happening in Parliament is not an innocent political thing,” he said. “It is anchored on a bigger strategy.”

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