South Africa no-confidence vote: Zuma 'on his ninth life'

By Milton Nkosi
BBC News, Johannesburg

Media caption,
President Jacob Zuma addresses the crowds in Cape Town

President Jacob Zuma is celebrating after narrowly surviving his eighth no-confidence vote. He is certainly on his ninth life now.

The president will savour his victory after many of his political enemies had written him off.

But his celebrations will be short-lived, because unlike previous motions, a lot more of his own MPs voted with the opposition - due to the fact that it was a secret ballot.

A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) used to stand together as a solid block, particularly when they were under attack from outsiders. But not this time.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
ANC party members watched the result from outside parliament in Cape Town

The mere fact that probably more than 30 ANC MPs voted with the opposition, against their own party's wishes, is enough to make Mr Zuma quake in his boots.

This figure may have not reached the required number to relieve him of his presidential duties, but it is enough to weaken him as leader of the ANC.

As they say, the president won the battle of the day - but he is likely to lose the war.

It is going to be a long road for him between now and December when the ANC goes to its elective conference, in which a new leader will be elected to replace 75-year-old Mr Zuma at the end of his second term.

Although some ANC comrades want to oust the president, they want to do it on their own terms, and not at the behest of the opposition.

There is a fierce battle under way to succeed him. The favourites are deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr Zuma's preferred candidate, his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Opposition members - including the Economic Freedom Fighters - rallied against the president in major cities

Some in the opposition are already calling for the MPs who voted in favour of the motion to resign from government structures.

They must, just as they did in that parliamentary polling booth, vote with their conscience and resign as MPs, they say.

It would make no sense for them to continue serving under a leader they tried to remove from office.

If they do stay - either political expediency or indeed for their stomachs' and their families' sakes - then they would have betrayed their own consciences.

Media caption,
The Zuma presidency: Scandals and successes
  • 2005: Charged with corruption over multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal - charges dropped shortly before he becomes president in 2009
  • 2016: Court orders he should be charged with 786 counts of corruption over the deal - he has appealed
  • 2005: Charged with raping family friend - acquitted in 2006
  • 2016: Court rules he breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade private home in Nkandla - he has repaid the money
  • 2017: Public protector said he should appoint judge-led inquiry into allegations he profiteered from relationship with wealthy Gupta family - he denies allegations, as have the Guptas
  • No inquiry appointed yet

For President Zuma, it means sitting at the table with his own comrades knowing full well that some of them are the equivalent of his Judas Iscariots.

As far as he is concerned, they have betrayed the revolution.

Prior to the secret ballot vote, there were only four ANC MPs who had publicly called for him to step down.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
MPs cast their vote in one of four booths - for the first time, in secret

The witch hunt may have already begun. Those hardliners who supported President Zuma may want to know who betrayed them.

Jackson Mthembu, the party's chief whip in parliament, couldn't have put it more succinctly.

"We must deal with difficulties of rampant corruption," he said.

"But we did not believe that dealing with these issues would be by removing Zuma."

Opposition leaders accused those who voted against the motion of defending and protecting corruption.

There are those who believe that the ANC is on a downward spiral and cannot save itself from its self-inflicted wounds.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Pressure on President Zuma rose after he sacked his highly-respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, here listening to the motion of no-confidence

As he thanked the masses who came out to support him here in Cape Town, President Zuma delivered a rendition of his signature Zulu tune Yinde Lendlela - which translates as "It's a Long Road".

It's a long road indeed, but only to December.

But split or no split, President Zuma is still the president of Africa's oldest liberation movement, albeit for a few months.

Some say he will not complete his second term. But we have heard these threats before, and we have written Mr Zuma's political obituary, only for him to re-emerge like a rising phoenix from the ashes.