JOHANNESBURG - South African President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote Tuesday, with about 60 percent of lawmakers voting to keep him in office. Opposition parties presented the impeachment motion after a court ruled Zuma had ignored an order to pay back state funds spent on his private home. Tempers ran hot as parliament members debated the motion Tuesday.
An hour into the parliamentary session, lawmakers were yet to discuss the motion to impeach Zuma.
Lawmakers were instead trading arguments and insults over the opposition’s demand that the National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete recuse herself.
The debate comes less than a week after the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to pay back part of the $16 million in public funds used for upgrades to his private home last year.
The court said the president violated the constitution by disregarding the Public Protector's recommendation for him to pay for non-security-related features built using these funds.
The court also found fault with parliament. A parliamentary committee had said Zuma did not need to repay the money. The Constitutional Court said lawmakers failed to hold the executive to account.
In a nationally televised speech Friday, Zuma apologized.
Opposition parties want Zuma removed from office but do not have the two-thirds majority vote in parliament to impeach him.
The ruling ANC party has rallied around the president. Coming out of a strategy session Monday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe made it clear that his party is ready to use its majority to oppose the impeachment motion.
“If they want to make motions because it makes sense for them and it gives them public attention, then fine," said Mantashe. "We can’t stop them from doing it.”
Zuma support cracking
But there are signs of cracks within Zuma’s support base. The army union, ANC war veterans and former senior government officials are some of those who have called for Zuma to go.
Political analyst Sanusha Naidu says defending Zuma will be damaging for ANC members of parliament.
“You have got domestic public opinion on the outside as well," Naidu said. "So it’s going to be a difficulty, because those that are going to try and circumvent it, have to make sure that they really want to do this in a public standing in the way they want to.”
The Democratic Alliance party is calling on ANC lawmakers to break ranks and back impeachment. The Economic Freedom Fighters party says if the motion fails in parliament, they will take to the streets.