Zuma Escapes South Africa Impeachment as ANC Wields Majority

  • Opposition parties wanted Zuma fired for breaching law
  • Former finance minister Manuel urges Zuma to step down

Jacob Zuma. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

South African President Jacob Zuma escaped impeachment for violating the constitution, as the ruling African National Congress used its 62 percent majority in parliament to defeat the motion.

The National Assembly on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the main opposition Democratic Alliance to dismiss Zuma, 73, by 233 votes to 143. The ballot followed a Constitutional Court ruling that he broke the law by refusing to abide by a directive from the nation’s graft ombudsman to repay taxpayers’ money spent on upgrading his private home.

“Today it will be recorded that the ANC members of this parliament defended a crooked, broken president, rather than the constitution and the rule of law,“ DA leader Mmusi Maimane told the assembly. “The ANC has lost its way and there is absolutely no way back. Corruption has infected the entire party like a cancer.”

The ruling by the nation’s highest court and the impeachment vote mark a low point for Zuma’s seven-year-old administration, which has been marred by scandal and controversy. Criticism of his government has intensified since December when his decision to replace his respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little-known lawmaker sparked a selloff of the rand and the nation’s bonds and comes months before local elections due by mid-August.

The scandal has further dented confidence in an administration that’s struggling to revive a stagnating economy and cut a 25 percent unemployment rate. The rand has slumped 21 percent against the dollar over the past 12 months, the most of 16 major currencies monitored by Bloomberg, while the nation’s credit rating is at risk of being cut to junk. The rand extended losses after the vote, falling as much as 2.6 percent to trade at 15.1701 against the dollar. It gained 0.5 percent to 15.0241 as of 8:32 a.m. in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

“I think it’s in all of our interests that the president actually steps aside,” former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said in an interview broadcast by Soweto TV while lawmakers debated the impeachment motion in parliament.

Zuma didn’t attend Tuesday’s debate. While all opposition parties supported his impeachment, ANC lawmakers argued that the Constitutional Court never ordered the president’s removal and that he had responded appropriately to its ruling.

‘Good Faith’

“We believe in the rule of law and we uphold the constitution,” Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery told the assembly. “It is the DA, and not the Constitutional Court, that said the president had made a serious violation of the constitution. The president acted in good faith and in the justified belief that he was acting within the constitution.”

Parliament’s speaker Baleka Mbete refused to bow to opposition party demands to recuse herself from the impeachment debate on the grounds that her credibility and impartiality had been compromised. The Constitutional Court also ruled that National Assembly violated the constitution because it failed to hold Zuma to account and sought to overrule Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings.

Family Friends

Zuma’s position has been further undermined by allegations by senior ANC officials that a wealthy Indian family who are his friends and are in business with his son offered them cabinet posts in exchange for business concessions. The ANC leadership is currently investigating those accusations, which the Gupta family denies.

Opposition parties aren’t the only ones criticizing Zuma -- a number of senior ANC officials, civil rights groups and church leaders have also called for him to step down.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the ANC has moved away from its duty to serve the people of the country.

“Once our actions are seen to be incongruent with this important document of our democracy, we must know we have moved away from our duty to serve our people,” Gordhan said in a speech Monday. “This organization, the ANC, has been at the forefront of the struggle for most of the 20th century and we should rediscover and reclaim its original purpose.”

Intelligence Background

The ANC’s former intelligence chief, Zuma took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. His allies dominate the ANC’s National Executive Committee, one of its top decision-making structures, and key positions in government.

In a televised address on April 1, the president said his failure to abide by Madonsela’s directive to repay some of the 215.9 million rand ($14.3 million) spent on a swimming pool and animal enclosures at his home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province was due to a different interpretation of her powers.

While Zuma apologized for the frustration and confusion the scandal had caused, he said he acted in good faith and never intentionally did anything illegal. He pledged to comply with the court order to repay an amount that the National Treasury will set.

Opposition Unity

Opposition parties will work together with labor unions, church leaders and other groups to ensure Zuma is held to account, Maimane said.

“We are far from finished on this matter,” he told reporters outside the assembly. “We will take all and necessary action to ensure justice is served.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s biggest labor group and a key ANC ally, came to Zuma’s defense Tuesday, saying in a statement that it accepted his apology, welcomed his commitment to reimburse the state and denounced calls for his impeachment.

“The ANC are clearly not going to throw Zuma under the bus and risk splitting the party down the middle,” Abdul Waheed Patel, managing director of Cape Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting, said by phone before the vote. “Internally the balance of forces are in his favor. It’s going to make the ANC look pretty bad from a public perception point of view.”

(A previous version of this story was corrected to reflect the accurate vote count.)

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