South Africa’s scandal-hit President Jacob Zuma easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament Thursday as ruling ANC lawmakers ignored calls from opposition parties to vote him out of office.
Zuma, who has faced mounting criticism from within his own party, came under further pressure last week after a corruption probe raised fresh allegations of misconduct.
But the ANC’s parliamentary majority delivered a resounding signal of support as 214 lawmakers voted against the motion and 126 voted in favour.
Zuma’s victory was expected, despite Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition party, appealing to ANC members to vote against their leader.
“To put it plainly, we can choose Jacob Zuma, or we can choose South Africa,” Maimane told parliament during a fiery debate.
“Many of you have been speaking out against him in recent weeks… I know that there are men and women in these ANC benches who want to do the right thing.”
But Zuma, 74, who came to power in 2009, retains strong loyalty among ANC (African National Congress) lawmakers and many party members.
The no-confidence vote was the third in under a year, with the first two also defeated by wide margins.
The corruption report by the country’s top watchdog raised accusations of possible criminal activity in Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas, a business family accused of wielding undue political influence.
It included allegations that the Guptas offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas a $44 million (40 million euros) bribe, which he said he refused.
– Zuma opposition grows –
Increasing numbers of anti-apartheid veterans, ANC activists, trade unions, civil groups and business leaders have called for Zuma to resign in recent months.
In Thursday’s debate, the ANC attacked Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, for bringing the non-confidence vote.
“The motion (is) using a black face to protect the interest of the white minority,” said ANC minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
“They are trying hard to distract the ANC… from dealing with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
The ANC, which has ruled since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, has seen its popularity dive, with local polls in August delivering its worst-ever result.
Zuma’s term in office ends in 2019, but the ANC is due to elect a new party leader at the end of next year and could then decide to replace him as head of state.
South Africa’s highest court this year found the president guilty of violating the constitution after he refused to repay taxpayers’ money used to refurbish his private rural house.
He is also fighting a court order that could reinstate almost 800 corruption charges against him over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
The radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party used the debate to tell the ANC it should have “found it in its own conscience to act against Jacob Zuma”.
“He is going to arrest you, to lock you up, to kill you, because… he knows that if he doesn’t have control of political power he is going to go to prison,” said EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu.
Despite the groundswell of protest and deep divisions in the ANC, Wits University professor Patrick Bond said Zuma remained secure in his position for now.
“The key people in the ANC are very supportive of Zuma,” he said.
When Zuma leaves office, the three leading possible successors are his ex-wife African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.