Growing factionalism and a looming vote of ‘no confidence’
According to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and other political allies, former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was fired on the basis of an “intelligence report” which claimed that the finance team was looking to collaborate with investors to overthrow the South African government. Ramaphosa called this report “flimsy” and along with two of the top six, Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, publicly proclaimed that the President’s decision was unacceptable and went against the wishes of senior party members, allies, business leaders and opposition parties. This is an unprecedented move in the ANC’s history, highlighting the increasing factionalism within the party. Other members of the top six have scolded Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize and have called for greater discipline, further affirming the deep divides that run within the party.
Since the announcement, opposition parties have called for a vote of no confidence in Parliament. This has been attempted before, and if opposition parties are to be successful in impeaching President Zuma, they will need a significant portion of ANC MPs (70 out of 249) to vote against the President. ANC chair and Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, cut her trip to Bangladesh short and returned to South Africa to table the calls for no confidence and Zuma’s removal by civil society, the South African Communist Party, and trade unions. In addition, it is expected that her return is to present a united front and bolster Zuma’s standings with supporters.
A letter signed by the ANC Integrity Commission (IC) Chair, Andrew Mlangeni, was delivered to Mantashe on Monday calling for an urgent meeting with the party’s top officials and the President on April 9 at Liliesleaf Farm. Mlangeni said the Integrity Commission is “deeply perturbed” by President Zuma’s decision to reshuffle cabinet without consultation and has set up this meeting with the President to repeat their request made in December 2016 for the President to resign as President of the Republic and of the ANC. The meeting will also seek to establish whether President Zuma engaged in consultations and who compiled the list of new ministers and their deputies. The IC also wishes to establish what motivated the President to retain Bathabile Dlamini.
What next for South Africa?
President Zuma is known as being a political survivor, enduring numerous votes of ‘no confidence’ along with 783 charges against him. As divided as the ANC is, it is unclear if a vote of no confidence in parliament would be successful. However, if ever there was a moment in South Africa’s history where it would be most likely to succeed it would be now.
The downgrade of South Africa’s economy to non-investment grade will affect every South African, as the cost of living increases. Those within the ANC who have previously supported the President have too much to lose should they continue to support him. Should the President survive this round of no confidence, the ANC will be thrown into disrepute and party factionalism will increase. As seen in the 2016 local elections where the ANC lost a significant share of the votes after Nhlanhla Nene was fired as finance minister in December 2015, a similar outcome is likely if Zuma is still in power when the 2019 national elections take place.
This is a crucial moment in South Africa’s history and one which will need unity beyond political parties. Engagement from civil society and the private sector is needed to hold government accountable to its promises of 1994 and more importantly the government’s current vision of socio-economic transformation.
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