Zuma fights for political life at marathon ANC meeting

Government ministers support no-confidence motion in South Africa’s president

South African president Jacob Zuma: a senior ANC official said Mr Zuma would probably  survive the  attempt to dislodge him by ANC figures unhappy with his leadership. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

South African president Jacob Zuma: a senior ANC official said Mr Zuma would probably survive the attempt to dislodge him by ANC figures unhappy with his leadership. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

 

South Africa’s beleaguered president, Jacob Zuma, was fighting for his political life on Monday night after a number of government ministers backed a motion of no confidence in him proposed at a national executive committee meeting of the ruling African National Congress.

Tourism minister Derek Hanekom took scandal-hit Mr Zuma and his ANC supporters by surprise on Saturday – many of them were at a wedding in Cape Town – when he tabled the motion for the president to step down at the meeting outside Pretoria.

According to City Press newspaper, the motion was backed by health minister Aaron Motsoaledi; his deputy, Joe Phaahla; rural development deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha; and public works minister Thulas Nxesi; among others.

It is understood the anti-Zuma faction argues that if Mr Zuma does not stand down the ANC will continue to decline in popularity among voters ahead of the 2019 general election, given the scandals plaguing his administration.

The debate over Mr Zuma’s fitness to hold office began on Sunday behind closed doors, and it was extended into Monday, because so many of the NEC’s 104 members sought to speak on the issue.

This is the first time the subject of recalling Mr Zuma from office – as the party did with his predecessor, president Thabo Mbeki, in 2008 – has been officially discussed in the highest decision-making body of the ruling party, which has the power to end his presidency.

It follows on from a week in which Mr Zuma and the ANC’s top five leaders held two meetings with a group of more than 100 senior ANC veterans who are worried about the state of the party after its poor showing in local government polls in August.

Party insiders have told media that Mr Zuma has received significant support from loyalists who were not present at the meeting initially, but rushed back to Pretoria to attend once they were informed of what was happening.

Aside from backing the president, the Zuma camp was trying to stop a vote from taking place on the issue for much of Monday, while those opposed to him continuing in office wanted a secret ballot to be held on the matter.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said he expected the NEC meeting, which was described by some committee members as “fiery and fierce”, to go late into Monday night.

Mr Hanekom and his government supporters were being urged to stand down from cabinet if the motion was unsuccessful, by Zuma loyalist Ace Magashule, who is the Free State premier and ANC provincial chairman. If they refused, Mr Zuma could remove them in a cabinet reshuffle.

The latest developments suggest there may be enough ANC MPs willing to cross the floor if a vote of no confidence was put to members of parliament – there has already been two such votes against Mr Zuma defeated this year – where the ANC has 249 seats of the 400 in the lower house.

Just 52 ANC MPs would have to vote with the combined opposition MPs for such a motion to be passed.