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Jacob Zuma Beats Back No-Confidence Vote in South Africa – New York Times

Opponents had hoped that anonymous voting would embolden disaffected A.N.C. loyalists to defect and vote against Mr. Zuma without fear of reprisal. It appeared that many did so: The A.N.C. controls 249 seats in the 400-member National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of Parliament; the motion needed 201 votes to pass, and it fell only 24 votes short.

Some A.N.C. members argued that removing Mr. Zuma would set a destabilizing and dangerous precedent, but they did not defend his tenure, which has been marred by accusations of corruption and incompetence.

As the debate proceeded, crowds massed in Cape Town, the seat of the legislature, to listen to the proceedings, which were streamed and broadcast live. Protesters also gathered in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“This president must just be removed,” said one marcher, Godfrey Dromp, 54, a supporter of the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters. “It doesn’t matter who replaces him.”

A.N.C. loyalists held a rival march outside City Hall, where Nelson Mandela addressed huge crowds after being released from prison in 1990. “This is where our democracy began,” a party activist, Nobuntu Kuse, told supporters. “The A.N.C. freed this country. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Mr. Zuma’s opponents said the vote was essential to restoring confidence in the government and improving the economy. They repeatedly cited a lengthy controversy involving the Guptas, a powerful family that has extensive business holdings and is so close to Mr. Zuma that they were commonly called the Zuptas. Leaked emails have led to accusations of influence peddling and calls for investigations.

“I am asking you today to overcome your fears, to show courage when the people of this country need you the most,” said Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which introduced the no-confidence motion. “I am asking you today to vote for hope.”

He urged lawmakers to “vote with your conscience and remove this corrupt and broken president from office.”

Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, asked members of the A.N.C., to which he once belonged, to distinguish between Mr. Zuma’s interests and their own.

Photo

Mr. Zuma celebrated after the vote of no confidence in him failed on Tuesday.

Credit
Nic Bothma/European Pressphoto Agency

“We are not here today to remove the democratically elected government of the A.N.C., which was voted for by our people in 2014,” he said, referring to the last national election.

The vote, he said, was “not against the A.N.C.” but against its leader, whom Mr. Malema called “the most corrupt individual in this country.”

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 88, a veteran of the struggle to topple apartheid and the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, said that the “poisoned seed of corruption” had been planted well before South Africa’s transition to democracy, but that misrule by Mr. Zuma had “reached the point that the unthinkable became possible.”

Under Mr. Zuma, he said, the country was for sale “to the highest bidder.”

He added: “This motion of no confidence is not against the A.N.C. We are not here to say ‘A.N.C. must fall.’ It is against corruption, it is against state capture, it is against one man.”

Nhlanhlakayise Moses Khubisa, the leader of the tiny National Freedom Party, said fundamental problems like poverty and unemployment as well as inadequate electricity, water and roads plagued South Africans and their economy. “Economic resources keep shrinking and our economy is not growing,” he said, “thus resulting in huge job losses and relegating the majority of South Africans to utter despair.”

Pieter Groenewald, the leader of Freedom Front Plus, a party of white Afrikaners, urged members of the A.N.C. to abstain rather than vote against the resolution, warning that if they kept Mr. Zuma, voters would blame them, not just the president.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is 27.4 percent and rising. Living conditions have improved since the demise of apartheid in 1994, but the gains have slowed. Public debt is rising, and experts say the country needs to restructure inefficient state-owned enterprises.

Municipal elections last year delivered a major blow to the A.N.C.’s control of Johannesburg and several other cities. After Mr. Zuma summarily dismissed a finance minister considered a bulwark against corruption in March, ratings agencies downgraded the country’s debt to junk status.

Mr. Zuma’s term as president runs until 2019, but the party is gearing up to meet in December to choose new party leaders for the next five years. Mr. Zuma’s narrow victory on Tuesday could empower his critics within the party and weaken supporters like his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is a former home affairs minister and a contender to succeed him as party leader.

“We can expect mass mobilizations across the country and a massive battle within the A.N.C. before December,” William Gumede, a scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand, predicted. “This will send an extremely negative message to investors and ratings agencies.”

In Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Zuma’s defenders were fairly muted. Puleng Mabe, an A.N.C. lawmaker, said that if the motion was enacted, it would amount to a coup d’état. “The outrage in the public over the levels of real and perceived corruption must be addressed by this Parliament,” he said, adding that the proper response was independent oversight, not toppling Mr. Zuma and his cabinet.

“The court of public opinion must not be allowed to become the benchmark of decision making,” Mr. Mabe said. “This is even more important today, where social media seeks to influence the outcomes, even without subjecting itself to the test of veracity.”

Another A.N.C. lawmaker, Dorries Eunice Dlakude, was one of several lawmakers who questioned the decision by the speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, to allow a secret ballot, a decision that surprised many observers. (Ms. Mbete would have replaced Mr. Zuma if he was ousted.)

“We are not sellouts,” Ms. Dlakude said.

Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst, said he was struck by the sober tone of the A.N.C. lawmakers.

“The A.N.C. I saw in today’s debate was very different from the arrogant party we normally see in Parliament,” Mr. Mathekga said. “ It was a complete shift in tone from previous motions of no confidence where they have defended Zuma.”


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Jacob Zuma Beats Back No-Confidence Vote in South Africa – New York Times

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