How did Zuma survive yet another no-confidence vote?

The ANC is not ready to give the opposition the opportunity to claim a political victory by toppling Jacob Zuma.

Jacob Zuma Reuters
President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in Cape Town [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

The South African parliament held a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma earlier this week, which he survived by 21 votes. It was the eighth time Zuma had faced a no-confidence vote.

The opposition in South Africa might not have been victorious in trying to remove Zuma from power, but a clear message came from his own party.  The results suggest at least 26 members (if not more) of the African National Congress (ANC) voted in favour of the motion. 

The vote was preceded by a back-and-forth between the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete and the opposition on having the no-confidence motion through a secret vote.

Mbete tried to dodge responsibility for making the decision, but the opposition took the issue to the constitutional court which eventually ruled that it was her prerogative. 

On August 7 the speaker allowed for a secret ballot, and the following day the no-confidence vote was held. With the ANC enjoying an absolute majority in parliament (249 of the 400 seats), why did Mbete, a senior ANC member, give in to the demands of the opposition?  

Was it that she wanted to show impartiality? Or was it that she wanted to exhaust all possible legal resorts of the opposition in removing the president? 

It seems it was important to allow the vote of no confidence to play out in order to send a message to South Africans that the speaker allowed a democratic process to take place. By opening to the opposition all possible political avenues to express dissent, the ANC aims to prevent any political escalation. If the opposition has the political space to challenge Zuma, it cannot justify taking its grievances to the streets which could descend into violence.

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The no-confidence vote was also an opportunity for the ANC to attempt to mask the unpopularity of the president within his own party. With these results, the ANC can now claim that despite some internal opposition, the majority of its MPs stand firmly behind Zuma.

Antagonism against Zuma within the ranks of the ANC is growing, but this doesn’t mean that its members are ready to give the opposition the opportunity to claim a political victory by toppling him.


It seems the opposition went for the no-confidence vote with high expectations suffering from political myopia. It had hoped that the secret ballot would encourage more ANC members to vote for the motion and help to topple the president.

It is unclear what made the opposition and many commentators think that there would be a significant number of ANC members willing to facilitate their agenda. That the opposition made these assumptions was surprising, particularly after the statements of unity made after the recent National Policy Conference of the ANC.  

Antagonism against Zuma within the ranks of the ANC is growing, but this doesn’t mean that its members are ready to give the opposition the opportunity to claim a political victory by toppling him. Furthermore, a successful motion of no confidence against Zuma could have triggered internal instability within the party leading to the postponement of the 54th National Conference of the ANC to be held in December 2017. This is the last thing Zuma’s opponents within the party would have wanted to see. 

There are also too many ANC members with too much to lose from his removal. It is no secret that Zuma has enabled a tribal deep state within the ANC, and many members benefit financially from his presidency.  

Yet, the ANC keeping Zuma in power for much longer might backfire as it implicates the party in prolonging his disastrous political tenure. This could further erode the ANC’s popularity. Opinion polls already show that Zuma is widely unpopular among South Africans and some 54 percent want him to resign.

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The ANC itself is facing a political and ideological crisis as a new post-apartheid generation has come of age and is casting its votes. In the 2014 election, the party registered a dip in its support, losing 15 seats.

Whether having this in mind or pursuing their own interests, senior officials within the ANC have called for Zuma’s resignation. Unlike other dissidents within the ranks of the ANC who in the past decided to resign and form their own political parties, the current Zuma opposition in the ANC has decided to keep their memberships and struggle against his leadership within the party.

As Zuma’s tenure as the ANC president will come to an end in December, his opponents will not have to wait long for his departure from this role. He may be replaced by his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. But the current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is another strong contender in this race and the opposition within the party is putting their support behind him. 

Under Zuma the ANC has turned into a bastion of patronage and corruption. Furthermore, impunity and arrogance have also become commonplace within the party’s ranks. In the past the ANC has managed to self-rectify when faced with similar challenges. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to do it this time around.

Thembisa Fakude is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.