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South Africa Prepares for Zuma No Confidence Vote

April 12, 2017

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The National Assembly will vote on April 18, on a motion of no confidence in the African National Congress' (ANC) Zuma administration. The motion has been put forward by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and is supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The occasion of the vote is Zuma’s earlier cabinet reshuffle which is perceived by many as having opened the flood gates to cronyism and corruption. The ANC has 249 seats out of 400 in the National Assembly. The two largest opposition parties are the DA, with eighty-nine seats, and the EFF, with twenty-five. The seats of all the other opposition parties together number thirty-seven. The ANC party leadership seems to have rallied around Zuma, and it must be expected that the motion will fail.

While such a failure is probable, there are new developments that indicate the direction in which South Africa is moving. Today, April 12, there have been mass demonstrations against the Zuma government (on, of all days, his seventy-fifth birthday). Of the thirteen opposition parties, all save two are supporting the demonstrations. This is an exceptional showing of opposition unity. The two that did not support the demonstrations are the Pan African Congress (PAC) and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+). The PAC favors wholesale expropriation of white-owned land. Its spokesman said that there is little to choose between Zuma and his supposed successors within the ANC as both are in the hands of capitalists and are corrupt. (The PAC’s one member of the National Assembly will abstain on the April 18 vote.) The FF+ is a fringe Afrikaner political party. Its spokesman said that it would vote for the motion on April 18, but not participate in the April 12 demonstrations because they are likely to be counterproductive. (The party has four seats.) All the rest of the opposition parties will participate in the demonstrations and will vote for the no-confidence motion. So, there are likely to be 150 opposition votes for the motion. To be successful the motion will require fifty or so ANC defections.

The prospect of substantial ANC defections is unlikely. Zuma is notorious for his vindictiveness, and the political career of an ANC defector would almost certainly be at an end. However, a small opposition party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), led by anti-apartheid veteran Bantu Holomisa, has applied to the South African Constitutional Court for an order that the ballot be secret. A secret ballot may well encourage some ANC MPs to support the no-confidence measure. (The UDM also has four seats.) Meanwhile, respected elder statesman Thabo Mbeki, in an op-ed, is urging members of the National Assembly to vote “for the people of South Africa,” rather than for a political party – an invitation to disaffected ANC representatives to vote for the motion.

It is hard to see how the Constitutional Court might mandate a secret ballot in the National Assembly. That would constitute intervention in the internal procedures of another branch of government. Further, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party have not supported demonstrations against the Zuma government up to now, and there is no sign of participation in today's protests. Both want Zuma out, but they want his exit to be the result of internal deliberations within the ANC rather than through a political process in the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, South Africa’s notoriously fragmented opposition has come together in a new way. Politics in South Africa are churning as ANC predominance fades.