Jacob Zuma hangs on in South Africa as opposition pressure builds

No-confidence motion against ‘reckless leadership’ of president dismissed as ‘frivolous’

South Africa's beleaguered president, Jacob Zuma, came under intense political and legal pressure on two fronts yesterday from the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, which is increasingly intent on ending his rule.

In parliament, DA leader Mmusi Maimane tabled a motion of no confidence against Mr Zuma for the second time in a year, saying that his “irrational, irresponsible and reckless leadership has done immeasurable damage to the economy”.

The motion is linked to Mr Zuma's shock removal in December of the country's then finance minister, the well-respected Nhlanhla Nene, who he replaced with the little-known African National Congress (ANC) deputy Des van Rooyen.

The move wiped billions of euro off the Johannesburg stock exchange and sent the South African rand into freefall against other major currencies, which forced Mr Zuma to replace Mr van Rooyen with one of his predecessors after only four days in the job.


Mr Maimane opened his address to parliament by labelling Mr Zuma a "sellout", saying he had put his own interests ahead of those of the people of South Africa, especially the unemployed.

Corruption charges

While the debate raged in parliament, the DA legal team was outlining its case in the North Gauteng high court as to why more than 700 corruption charges should be reinstated against the president.

The charges, linked to a multibillion-dollar government arms deal in 1999, were sensationally dropped by the then head of the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa, Mokotedi Mpshe, in 2009, days before Mr Zuma was sworn in as president.

Mr Mpshe said he had dropped the charges because there was evidence – allegedly recorded telephone conversations between government officials – of political interference in relation to the timing they were made against Mr Zuma.

The DA lawyers asked judges to look at the rationale behind Mr Mpshe’s decision, claiming that he failed to take proper account of, or give enough weight to, the nature and circumstances of the corruption charges.

For its part, the prosecution authority admitted that former president Thabo Mbeki had nothing to do with the attempts to have Mr Zuma tried for corruption, which runs contrary to rumours circulated at the time.

The hearing has been set down for three days, and if it goes against Mr Zuma it will further embarrass the ANC as it prepares for a local election that takes place within a matter of months.

‘Abuse of process’

A statement from the presidency described the court proceedings as “an abuse of process by a political party in order to advance a political agenda”.

The ANC also described the DA’s no-confidence motion as “a frivolous stunt” that was attempting to divert the public’s attention away from “the racism scandals embarrassing the party on an ongoing basis”.

The motion of no confidence was easily defeated in the end, by 225 votes to 99.

The ANC holds a significant majority in the national assembly and, despite rumblings of discontent within the ruling party regarding the president’s recent performances, deputies continued to vote along party lines.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa