President Zuma elatedly assured supporters gathered outside the national assembly: ‘They (the opposition parties) will never defeat the ANC.’ He refrained from adding that naturally included himself. ‘ANC reaffirmed as leader of society’ boasted the governing African National Congress’s press release. ‘Zuma’s triumph’ was the lead headline on Politicsweb. Then the contradictions. ‘The ANC may have won the No Confidence motion in Parliament, but it has lost the confidence of the country,’ said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, and he called for parliament to be dissolved and for an early election to be held.
Well, which is it, what is the truth?
The ruling party clearly needs to reject the idea that their president is in any way weakened by the vote and that the ANC is split (and therefore also weakened). So it runs the two issues together, deliberately to blur any firm conclusion about either. The two issues are linked, certainly, but not inseparable. Let us look at it that way. It is possible that Zuma has lost all standing but the ANC is not split. It could be that ANC MPs agree he has turned out a bad president and even should be replaced. But then it stops there; that is all. But that is unlikely from the circumstances. A vote of no-confidence was held that the ANC found it could neither resist nor insist was an open vote as usual. That does not suggest there are no divisions internally beyond President Zuma’s performance in the job.
Indeed, we already know leaders have voiced criticisms and called for him to step down; now such opposition appears to have infiltrated the rank and file of the parliamentary caucus, normally a dependable body of lobby fodder. The figures are remarkable. The final vote was 198 against, 177 for, referred to in the ANC announcement as a ‘resounding defeat’ for the motion. You either believe that or you do not. But if the party is not exactly split, at least we can say such figures do not support the claim the ANC are all of one mind with regard to their president or party. That is only the ANC spokespersons’ version.
And, on the other hand, is Zuma weakened or strengthened by the support he received? The ANC spin is that 80% of ANC MPs voted for him; only 20% against. A few odd opponents might be expected in a secret ballot, obviously. But what the voting has exposed is a significant proportion of ANC MPs are seriously concerned not only whether they are backing the wrong horse, but whether their party is taking the right direction.
That Zuma has emerged strengthened from this trial after all the others sounds more and more incredible. This was his eighth no-confidence challenge. This time it was not a nationwide but a worldwide story. Without counting in the numbers, his reputation is in shreds, and he has achieved nothing more than to survive again.
Close though the verdict is, however, none of this suggests, much less guarantees, all is over for the ANC in the 2019 elections. Politics is a fascinating study because it involves not black and white but grey areas, and defies augury.