THE opposition's motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma failed in the National Assembly on Tuesday, but confirmed growing dissent in the ranks of the ANC as at least 26 ruling party MPs defied a three-line whip to vote in favour of it.
Economic Freedom Fighters' leader Julius Malema said it was a cause to celebrate and showed that the opposition's battle to secure a secret ballot for the measure was not a waste of time because it emboldened African National Congress MPs to vote according to conscience.
"We got 26 votes from the ANC direct and 35 indirect because there were nine abstentions... We thank them for their courage. When we said to you we are eating an elephant bit-by-bit, we were not joking," he said, adding that it the opposition would persist with its attempts to oust Zuma from office even after Tuesday failed eighth attempt.
"We think that our work is now bringing some positive results. We are going to push it until it becomes a real victory."
After an often boisterous debate, Speaker Baleka Mbete confirmed that 177 MPs had voted in favour of the no confidence motion and 198 against it, while nine abstained.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said the ANC had scored a pyrrhic victory and would rue the missed opportunity when South Africans went back to the polls in 2019. But he added that there was hope in the numbers who voted with the opposition.
"It shows to South Africa that there are ANC members who want to see change take place with democracy. It says to the people that Jacob Zuma does not have the mandate of the people...
"We stand united that South Africa needs a new beginning. ANC members today proved that there are some who are just not willing to put up with corruption.
"He is in fact a dead president walking and he must resign."
After the result was announced, a tired-looking Zuma went to thank supporters who had protested loudly in his support throughout the debate.
"The outcome had proven that the ANC was the only movement who held the overwhelming support of South Africans," Zuma said.
"Those comrades who were in Parliament needed the support of the members who supported them. You came in a number to show that the ANC is there, it is big, it is powerful, it is difficult to tame the ANC."
The opposition had pointedly argued in the debate that it was not seeking to overthrow the party that has ruled since the fall of apartheid but to oust a president that has allowed private business interests to dictate to the State.
It was a clear attempt to reach out to ANC MPs who might be persuaded to support the motion. Pleading with ANC members to vote with their conscience, Maimane said the opposition was not seeking regime change but greater accountability from government.
Malema echoed: "Ours is not against the ANC, but against the father of Duduzane, because Duduzane’s father is the most corrupt individual in this country.
“We have a problem with the Cabinet getting reshuffled by people who are not elected,” he said, insinuating that Zuma was doing the Gupta brothers’ bidding when he sacked Pravin Gordhan as finance minister at the end of March.
The reshuffle triggered the opposition's motion, and Gordhan was among four MPs to signal in the run-up to the debate that he would vote as he saw fit, along with former tourism minister Derek Hanekom and MPs Makhosi Khoza and Mondli Gungubele.
Khoza faces disciplinary steps for her pronouncements, and Tuesday's mini-rebellion in the National Assembly caused talk of possible retribution against those suspected of voting with the opposition.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, who did not speak in the debate, said he had known that the motion would fail. Mthembu had sought to pull dissenting MPs into line ahead of the vote, warning that it would be disastrous to force Zuma and his Cabinet out of office as effectively government would collapse.
But ANC MPs had said the real problem was that the party would then have 30 days to elect a new president and given the bitter infighting about who should succeed Zuma after his second term, it was simply not ready to make such a decision.
African News Agency (ANA)