ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

Cape Town - The ruling African National Congress has not blocked a debate on a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma but merely delayed it, the party’s secretary general said on Monday after howls of protest from the opposition.

Eight opposition parties have submitted the motion, in a rare show of opposition unity against ANC, which put Nelson Mandela in power in 1994.

Using the dominance of the party, which holds two-thirds majority in parliament, National Assembly speaker and ANC veteran Max Sisulu set aside the motion.

The opposition claimed the move was unconstitutional.

But the party's seniors tried to downplay the decision.

“The ANC in Parliament has not refused to discuss the motion. The question that we are dealing with is not the refusal, but a programming issue,” Gwede Mantashe told reporters.

The opposition had wanted the matter discussed before Parliament goes on recess on November 22.

“The ANC cannot refuse to discuss a vote of no confidence or any motion for that matter, but the ANC cannot be frog-marched to prioritise a frivolous motion, that's why we say it's a programming matter, not a refusal matter,” he said.

Zuma next month faces a crucial vote at the ANC's electoral conference, whose outcome will decide whether he remains president of Africa's powerhouse for another five years.

Opposition parties blame Zuma's poor leadership in the face of a myriad of pressing challenges facing the country, including a slowing economy, joblessness, spiralling corruption and the weakening and politicisation of the justice system.

In 2010, Zuma survived a no-confidence vote brought by the ANC breakaway movement, the Congress of the People.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) goes to court on Tuesday to seek an urgent ruling to ensure debate of the motion before Parliament goes on year end break on November 22.

It said the announcement by the ANC that it was not opposed to the motion being debated, “and that their concern was merely over it receiving precedence, is in complete contradiction” to and backtracking on a stance taken by its Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga, who has vehemently opposed the matter.

DA leader in Parliament Lindiwe Mazibuko told AFP that with just a week to go until the end of the Parliament session, the matter has to be debated “otherwise it falls off the order paper and it has to be re-tabled next year”.

“And there's absolutely no precedent for a motion of no confidence being delayed until it falls off the order paper.”

“So we're going to get an urgent court application to actually compel the speaker to schedule the thing so we can have the debate and put it to a vote.”

Mantashe said the opposition's taking the matter to court “is reducing parliament to a subsidiary of the judiciary and thereby impeding the legislative independence”. - AFP