President Jacob Zuma. File photo: Mike Hutchings

Cape Town - A motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma was defeated in the National Assembly on Tuesday when the ruling African National Congress used its majority to keep him in power.

“The results of the division is as follows: yes – 113, no – 221, abstain – 8. The motion is therefore not agreed to,” Speaker Baleka Mbete announced after the vote.

The vote followed a heated debate in which Zuma was called a thief, the country’s biggest opposition party was branded a “Mickey Mouse party”, and insults were slung back and forth between MPs.

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane opened the debate by taking a swipe at the president over the Nkandla scandal.

“You will vote for a thief, a man who stole the people’s money to build his R246 million home,” Maimane said, referring to the use of taxpayers’ money to effect security upgrades to the president’s private homestead.

This led to objections from ANC benches, with the ruling party’s chief whip, Stone Sizani, declaring: “Honourable Maimane knows the president has never been judged by any court to be a thief. He has no right to call him a thief.”

Speaker Baleka Mbete agreed, insisting Maimane withdraw the statement.

“Honourable member, you know that it is unparliamentary to call a member who is not even in this House a thief. Please withdraw it,” Mbete said.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen countered, insisting: “The Constitutional Court of this country has ruled it’s correct that the president can be called a thief.”

Mbete disagreed, saying such an opinion had not been conveyed to Parliament.

“We are not run by any court. This House is run by its own rules and internal arrangements.”

Maimane eventually withdrew the remark, albeit reluctantly.

The fiery DA parliamentary leader then went on to blame Zuma for South Africa’s slow economic growth.

“Since President Jacob Zuma assumed office in 2009, the number of unemployed South Africans have grown by 1.4 million,” Maimane said.

Speaking directly to ANC MPs, Maimane said they would be judged harshly in the future for keeping Zuma in office.

“You can choose to keep a man in office that steals from the poor... who breaks the Constitution to protect himself... or you can choose to vote with your conscience,” Maimane said.

“The longer you keep this man in office the more you show South Africans how the ANC has lost its way.”

ANC MPs, including Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, rejected Maimane’s sentiments.

“Let us recognise this motion for what it is – a desperate attempt by a party that has nothing to offer the country or the few areas it governs,” Radebe said.

Radebe said it was ridiculous to blame Zuma for the country’s sluggish economic growth, as the global slowdown which impacted South Africa had nothing to do with the president.

In 2008, the DA-led City of Cape Town had an unemployment rate of 19.2 percent, rising to 25 percent in 2013, Radebe said.

Most opposition parties, barring the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African People’s Convention, supported the motion, insisting the president had failed the country.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said it was time the ANC devised an “amicable exit strategy” for Zuma.

During the same debate, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu introduced some cartoon characters into her speech when she responded to Maimane’s claims that Zuma’s presidency paled in comparison with that of former president Nelson Mandela.

“It was the same kind of treatment he (Mandela) got you are giving now to President Zuma which is why he called you a ‘Mickey Mouse party,” Sisulu said.

A DA MP could be heard shouting: “He was just being goofy.”

ANA