National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete shocked everyone on Monday by allowing a vote of no confidence in President Zuma to take place by secret ballot. This will allow MPs to vote according to their conscience, which might be against the party line.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says it was a risk worth taking for the ANC.
“The only way Mbete would have allowed the secret ballot is if she was confident that the ANC caucus was able to rally around the issue and make sure its members toed the party line," he says.
“The caucus and some in the ANC must have arrived at the conclusion that an open ballot will only create another crisis. They’ve clearly said, leave this fight, fight the battle that matters, which is rallying our members.”
There is a lot of political mileage to be gained if Zuma survives the secret vote.
“If Zuma survives the ANC will twist it into a vote of confidence in the president and at the same time it will give them a chance to clean up their mess.
“It could come out after the vote that some deal was made with Zuma. We know that not everyone in the ANC caucus supports him and it could be that they told him they’ll support him this time, but that he has to go in December. If it’s by secret ballot we’ll never even know. This will make it even more interesting,” says Mathekga.
Not everyone agrees. Political commentator Mpumelelo Mkhabela says this might be the moment the alliance partners and opposition factions in the ANC have been waiting for.
“I think they’re going to vote him out. The SACP as well as those supporting Ramaphosa and the other ANC presidential candidates now have a unique opportunity to get rid of him. All of them are united against Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This is the moment for them to take charge before 2019.”
Mbete might also have taken the opportunity to strengthen her own presidential campaign.
“If Zuma is removed the ANC might ask to adjourn the sitting and will then debate who will be president. It’s likely that they will not be able to reach a consensus and in that case Mbete could become interim president.”
According to analyst Melanie Verwoerd it doesn't seem like Mbete's decision was supported by the ANC NEC.
"If this is the case she's done this at a major risk to herself and her own position. I don't think she would have allowed a secret ballot if she wasn't confident that it would turn out favourably for the ANC."