The showdown South Africans have been demanding for weeks is not likely to happen soon, as a no-confidence vote for the increasingly unpopular president has been postponed from Tuesday pending a ruling from the nation’s top court.
The postponement is yet another twist in South Africa’s increasingly complicated political drama.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) asked for the no-confidence vote, which was set for April 18, in response to President Jacob Zuma’s widely unpopular decision last month to fire a well-respected finance minister and reshuffle his Cabinet. That political upheaval prompted a major ratings agency to downgrade the nation’s sovereign credit rating, which has negatively impacted the economy.
But after the DA tabled the motion, the smaller United Democratic Movement opposition party asked for the vote to be held by secret ballot in what is widely seen as a bid to encourage members of Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) to turn on their leader. That request for a secret ballot has to go through the Constitutional Court.
However, that left the original petitioners in a sticky position -- whether to push for a quick, but public, vote in which the ANC majority in parliament is likely to stand behind Zuma -- or to wait for a chance to have a secret vote that might actually succeed.
The DA chose the latter and pulled the motion. Parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo told VOA that now puts the original motion for a no-confidence vote in an interesting limbo while the court decides.
“Any motion that is postponed remains in the program of the sitting of the assembly,” he told VOA. “And it blocks any other member of parliament from raising a similar motion during that period. So those are the dynamics that the programming committee of parliament must look into.”
The court, he says, could rule quickly, or they could take up to six months to reach a decision. Regardless, while the court is deliberating the matter, Zuma is safe from no-confidence votes in parliament.
Mothapo, a longtime member of the ANC, was quick to note that the speaker of parliament did not hesitate to schedule the no-confidence vote in the first place, and that the opposition withdrew the motion.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga told VOA that this takes the wind out of the sails of the latest, boisterous movement to force Zuma out.
“The reality is that the immediate factor upon which that motion was called upon, which was Jacob Zuma’s latest reshuffle, would have settled down to a point where by the time the the court decides whether it’s secret or not, it might not be so beneficial for the opposition parties, because the dust will have settled down,” he said.
Now, he says, the opposition needs to get to work whipping the vote and trying to convince the ANC to turn on Zuma -- a tough task, as the ANC is proud of its party discipline and unity.
Zuma’s recent actions -- coupled with longstanding anger over simmering corruption scandals -- prompted tens of thousands of South Africans to recently take to the streets, and to the lawn of the president’s official home, to demand his resignation. At mass protests last week, opposition party leaders said they would keep the pressure on Zuma as long as it took. His term ends in 2019.
Zuma has largely brushed off the animosity, saying that those who oppose his party are racists and joking at his recent 75th birthday celebration that stress is “a white man’s disease.”
Top South African psychologists quickly refuted that assertion, noting that a recent study found that non-white South Africans experience higher levels of stress than white South Africans. The president, it appears, is an anomaly.