Motion of no confidence

14th August 2017

Motion of no confidence

As we expected, the motion of no confidence did not succeed despite it being held in secret. The secrecy clearly did not alter the balance of power significantly. But let’s first crunch the numbers.

The numbers

Why does the ANC rally behind Zuma?
A vociferous critic of Zuma’s who has repeatedly called for his resignation, the SA Communist Party, called on members to vote against the motion of no confidence. A known Zuma adversary, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, put huge pressure on the caucus to also vote against. Why are these anti-Zuma people rallying behind him?

Various theories are advanced, from Zuma’s political survival skills to dark theories on bribery and blackmail. Perhaps the explanation is much simpler. The ANC is deeply divided and cannot afford to hold an election now to choose a successor, which they would have had to do if Zuma was unseated. In fact, Jackson Mthembu said as much in an interview on eNCA a few days before the vote. The fear is that if a new president had to be elected within 30 days the ANC might very well implode. No faction was/is ready for the succession fight now. Better then to stumble along to December when a new leader will be elected any way. Zuma was the beneficiary of this fear of implosion. It has more to do with party divisions than magical survival skills.

Nevertheless, this inside-the-party dynamics may pass the ordinary voter by. The ANC has lumbered itself with the perception that it protects Zuma. This is a far cry from where the country is.

Parliament out of step?
The latest opinion poll data we have is the IPSOS poll from May 2017. (It is worth remembering that IPSOS accurately forecast the voting patterns which led to a change in control in the 3 metros.) 62% of voters disapproved of Zuma and 18% approved. Amongst ANC supporters, 54% wanted him to step down and 27% thought he was doing a good job and should stay on. These are not only wide margins against Zuma; they also run in the opposite direction from the de facto 50%-for-Zuma and 45%-against vote recorded in Parliament.

This is not a sustainable position for the ANC. All the more so if one bears in mind that this poll was taken before the Gupta emails started leaking. Since the leaks started even ANC leaders have lamented how much the Gupta saga has hurt the party.

A consensus view is that Zuma’s support lies in the rural areas and that opinion polls do not capture these accurately. Maybe, but the conservative rural parties in parliament like the IFP and NFP from KZN’s rural areas voted for the motion and their speeches in the debate were vociferous. Also, the ANC lost the municipality of Zuma’s homestead Nkandla as well as some other municipalities. Rural people understand corruption and kleptocracy as well as anybody.

Obviously the opinion poll that counts will be the election of 2019 and that is still 22 months away. A lot can happen (including missteps by the Opposition). But if the ANC cannot rid itself of the Zuma albatross it will have a fight on its hands to maintain the 55% of the vote it got in the 2016 municipal elections.

So What?

Timeline leading up to ANC National Conference
At the request of some colleagues, I compiled a timeline of politically important developments till the end of the year. Surprises must of course be added to the list as they occur.

Written by JP Landman, Political Analyst