The Speaker of the South African Parliament has announced that a vote of no confidence on President Jacob Zuma, will be held by secret ballot.
At the heart of the controversy is the President’s ties to the Indian-origin Gupta family.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma became the President after his party, African National Congress (ANC) claimed victory in the 2009 general election. He was re-elected in 2014.
A controversial figure, he has faced six no-confidence votes since becoming President. In March 2016, his credibility was further hit when the highest court in South Africa ruled that he violated the constitution. This was because he failed to repay the government for upgrading his private home. Zuma apologized to the public and vowed to repay the money.
However, months later, he became embroiled in a controversy surrounding the Indian-born South African business family – the Guptas. Leaked emails and documents (over 100,000) appear to highlight improper dealings between the Gupta family and the government. The family has been able to land a number of lucrative government deals for decades. Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, who re-located to South Africa in 1993, are among the powerful elites in the country. They have interests in computers, mining, air travel, energy, technology and media.
Zuma and his family have strong ties to the Guptas. Zuma’s daughter Duduzile was a Director at Sahara Computers. His son, who was also a Director of one of the Gupta-owned companies, stepped down due to public pressure.
There has been significant backlash against both Zuma and the Gupta family. Some have even called them – Zupta. Zuma and the Gupta family have denied any wrongdoing.
A number of politicians within the ANC have publicly criticized the President after the leaks. A secret ballot had been called to ensure those within ANC could vote against Zuma without suffering repercussions. Critics say that Zuma has betrayed Nelson Mandela’s legacy (Mandela joined the ANC in 1943).
A statement from the office of ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu said, “Voting in favour of this motion will be tantamount to throwing a nuclear bomb at our country.” However, members within the party have signaled that they just might vote against their party leader and President.
Despite growing calls from within his own party, Zuma has refused to step down. For the no-confidence motion to succeed, there needs to be 201 votes cast in its favor. The ANC holds 246 parliamentary seats. The vote will take place on August 8.
Our assessment is that not only does this controversy threaten to tarnish Zuma’s political career, it has the potential to destroy one of the most influential business groups in South Africa. The Gupta brothers, which is at the core of the controversy, appears to have built their business empire on political patronage. For the ANC, the debate will be about its integrity as a governing party. The speech by the opposition leader Mmusi Maimane makes the divide very clear - “The choice before us is simple. Either we love one family, aided and abetted by the President to take everything from us or on behalf of the people of South Africa, we take our country back.” These are very strong words and resonate well with the struggle of great South African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, who fought for decades to deliver the black South African people from the system of Apartheid.