Zuma's enemies are now everywhere

In the final hour, as the counting of votes was being finalised on Tuesday, ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) members Lindiwe Zulu, Nomvula Mokonyane and a few others huddled together in the National Assembly.

From the media gallery, we could see that worry engraved their faces as they whispered. Just a few feet away, in the middle of the National Assembly, the votes to decide President Jacob Zuma’s fate were being recounted. 

At the end, they led the victory song – as it became clear that Zuma had survived yet another motion of no-confidence.

The results explained the worry on their faces. Zuma and his supporters no longer have the tight grip on the party that they used to. The ANC caucus is now also enemy territory with the outcome of the vote a warning of a revolt, expected to intensify. The divisions in the party were laid bare.

The fact that between 35 and 40 MPs dared to vote to oust Zuma, albeit under the “safety net” of the secret ballot, is a clear sign that Zuma’s enemies are everywhere, beyond the party’s top six, NEC and National Working Committee (NWC).

If we consider that there are some within the opposition that voted with the ANC to defeat the motion, the number of ANC MPs could even be higher.

It is unprecedented for ANC MPs to break rank en masse and vote with the opposition. It was until now considered sacrilegious and happened in spite of the spirited threatening and intimidating campaign by party leaders ahead of the motion.  

Fikile Mbalula had labelled ANC MPs who would support the opposition plans to oust Zuma “suicide bombers”. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe called it “the worst betrayal” and chief whip Jackson Mthembu said it would be like throwing a “nuclear bomb” at the country.

Following the vote, Zulu compared those who voted against Zuma with impimpis who sold them out to the apartheid forces while they were in exile.

Tuesday was a sign that the war inside the ANC is just intensifying and finding new fronts for battle.  

The anti-Zuma faction in the ANC, that was lobbying until very late on Monday evening – expected the vote to go either way. They had expected a higher number, but their efforts were frustrated by the Democratic Alliance’s repeated calls for an early election if the motion succeeded.

Some members who agreed that Zuma must go, feared losing their livelihoods if elections were held within three months. Voting for Zuma to go would essentially amount to voting themselves out, as ANC prospects are grim if an election were held now. 

Mantashe is also said to have played to those fears during caucus ahead of the motion.

But Parliament is not just about low ranking members. For years the ANC has treated Parliament as the “political dustbin” for senior leaders who were now out of favour. Premiers shipped their rivals to Cape Town to avoid a palace coup. ANC MPs include former premiers, fired ministers, former provincial leaders, and former mayors. They are the ones seen to have led the charge.

The good thing for South Africa is that we can expect them to up the ante in holding the executive accountable. Tuesday was only the beginning. 

- Mahlatse Gallens is political editor of News24.

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