John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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No Confidence Vote Against South Africa’s Zuma Going Nowhere

by John Campbell
November 13, 2012

Supporters of South Africa's President Zuma block the road near his home as opposition party DA members walk toward them in Nkandla 04/11/2012. (Rogan Ward/Courtesy Reuters)


Times are hard for Jacob Zuma. His woes range from the cosmic to the personal. His leadership of the governing African National Congress is likely to be challenged at the December party convention. The Farlam Commission investigating the Marikana massacre may hold the state accountable for murder of mine workers. If so, the Zuma government could fall. (In South Africa, unlike some other African states, official commission reports that embarrass the government cannot be suppressed.) Two international agencies have cut South Africa’s credit rating. Unemployment is up. The perception is that corruption is increasingly out of control. It is widely believed that Zuma is trying to politicize the judiciary. He is under heavy personal criticism for the use of public money for “security enhancement” of his private farm. And then there is the government’s failure to deliver textbooks to children in Limpopo Province.

Accordingly, eight of the eleven opposition parties have tabled a motion of no-confidence in the Zuma government. Should it pass, the Zuma government would be forced to resign. It will not pass, and it will probably never even reach a vote because of the ANC’s overwhelming majority in parliament. (If all of the MPs from the eight opposition parties voted for the measure, it would still need the support of more than sixty ANC MPs to pass.) More than 60 percent of the MP’s are ANC, and many of them dislike Zuma. But, it is highly unlikely that they would vote to bring down an ANC government. The ANC leadership can, using legitimate parliamentary tactics, ensure that the measure will never even reach the order paper stage. Indeed there is already an ANC counter-motion proposing Parliament “reaffirm its full confidence in the able leadership of President Jacob Zuma.”

So, is this a fruitless exercise? No. In the short run, the no-confidence motion ensures nation-wide public discussion of the government’s shortcomings in the run-up to the ANC party convention. In any democracy that is healthy. There are signs that it is already bringing pressure on Zuma, though it is not clear what the short-term consequences will be. Perhaps of greater importance, the fact that eight parties–ranging from the Democratic Alliance (the official opposition) to the Inkatha Freedom Party to the Congress of the People–are cooperating in this endeavor may be a step toward the emergence of a united, credible opposition party that could someday challenge the ANC’s overwhelming dominance of parliament. That, too, would be good for democracy.

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  • Posted by Innocent Monya-Tambi

    The shortcomings of the ANC government are I believe evident to most South Africans. Even more glaring are the personal moral incapabilities as well as lack of public responsibilities and accountabilities of most of the ANC leaders, chief among them JZ. If anything, sadly this seems to be an re-enactment of the events of most other African nations in the first few decades after independence. However, the active players in this act/scene of South African democracy – ANC’s political alliance within parliament (SACP) and outside of the formal political establishment (Trade Unionist and war veterans) means that the party will for a long time enjoy a safe political dominance. Moreover it is doubtful if a party which served essentially as a liberation movement for a majority of oppressed South Africans for decades and ultimately secured their freedom could be so soon or so easily discarded for another party. As for JZ, either out of mere incompetence or deliberate exploitation of the comfortable “popular support” for the government, he has acted in so many ways that may eventually render independent and state institutions weak, especially the judiciary. Thus even though the voices of democracy may never be silenced in South Africa, the instruments that safeguard the poper functioning of that democracy my be erroded enough to make the voices cords out of tune. I personally do not believe Zuma will be removed from his leadership position in the current ANC. Having lived and worked in South Africa especially at the time of his sacking and thereafter, the factions which stood in support of him toward gaining the leadership of the party still support him firmly. Like the saying goes they know him “through and through”. And it could be opined that they even knew how his presidency will define the political landscape of South Africa. It is still doubtful if guiding principles and specific visions for South Africa and its place in the subregion steers them toward support for him. But for the most part they are comfortable maintaining the status que as long as their agendas are carried out under his watch or may be in his blind spot. The question becomes how long before this post liberation script being acted out before the broader South African audience typical of other African countries post indenpendence is stopped? Marikana, Ndlandla, textbooks de-delivery in Limpopo, etc? Not so soon. I believe beyond Maugaung.

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