Cape Town – President Jacob Zuma lived to lead South Africa for another day after a DA motion to have him removed failed by 243 votes to 133 in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
For the motion to pass, more than 260 MPs needed to vote in favour of it, which would have had to include over 100 ANC MPs voting against the party line.
Opposition MPs tried hard to get the motion to pass, delivering impassioned speeches to the relentless heckling of a group of ANC backbenchers.
Some ANC MPs were, by contrast, uncharacteristically quiet, watching the debate solemnly and listening to Zuma being pilloried by one opposition MP after another.
Newly installed ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu called victory when the vote failed.
He said Zuma’s apology had come from the heart, and the fact that Zuma stood in front of the nation and said he could have done better showed remorse.
However the opposition vowed that they would not give up.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters after the debate that they would not allow Parliament to keep breaking the rules.
Opposition party leaders would work together to lobby South Africa to act against Zuma.
“We stand together in that regard to say we want to demand further action. The message is loud and clear. We are far from finished on this matter. We will take all action to ensure justice is served.”
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said they would not be complicit in the overthrowing of democracy.
He said they would consider whether they shouldn’t approach the Constitutional Court to challenge Executive acts.
The EFF vowed to take Mbete to court for refusing to recuse herself during the debate.
On Friday, Zuma said he unreservedly accepted last week’s Constitutional Court judgment on his Nkandla homestead.
Since then the ANC has had high-level meetings to discuss the judgment and had already thrown its weight behind Zuma ahead of Tuesday’s debate.
Likewise, the DA, who brought the motion, had already said it knew that this would happen.
Maimane said during the debate that the ANC would show South Africans their true character by choosing to defend a “crooked and broken president” and theirs would be a ”fake victory”.
“When later today the votes are counted, you will claim a victory. On this occasion, when you win, you will lose. As ANC MPs, you should ask yourself, how many fake victories will you claim?”
He said the majority of South Africans had rejected Zuma’s apology and added that Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe did not think the judgment was a big deal.
“It is a big deal,” said Maimane.
The motion came after the Constitutional Court last week ruled that Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution when he did not comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action regarding the non-security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.
The upgrades cost at least R246m and Zuma and the ANC decided that Madonsela’s remedial action that he pay back a portion of the money was not binding. A report by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko also cleared Zuma of having to pay anything.
The Constitutional Court also ruled that the National Assembly failed to uphold the Constitution when it set aside Madonsela’s report.
The EFF tried to have Mbete step aside for Tuesday’s debate on the grounds that she would be conflicted, with EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi telling her: “You are a constitutional illiterate.”
When there was a suggestion that the Mbete matter be put to the vote, EFF leader Julius Malema shouted that it was the ANC’s vote in favour of Zuma paying back back nothing that got them all where they were.
“Bloody voting cattle,” he bellowed across the floor.
Deputy Justice Minister and ANC MP John Jeffery said Zuma did not “seriously” violate the Constitution.
He said the protector’s powers had always been a grey area and claimed that even current Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was unsure of whether her powers were binding.
“It is the [DA], not the Constitutional Court that is saying that the president committed a serious violation of our Constitution,” he said to howls of disbelief from opposition benches.
He also said there was also nothing wrong with Zuma seeking clarity on Madonsela’s powers.
“There is a difference, whether the DA likes it or not, between an inconsistency and a violation.”
He added that former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki were also found to have violated the Constitution in the past. Mandela’s case involved the pharmaceutical industry, and Mbeki regarding pardons.
“The president has issued an apology and assured the nation that he acted in good faith and never knowingly acted to violate the Constitution.”
The Treasury was already working on what Zuma would pay back, as ordered by the court.
DA MP James Selfe later said that the public protector had never said she was unsure of her powers.
“She was never confused. It was the honourable deputy minister that was confused. He has been disproved in every court of the land,” said Selfe.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa suggested that Parliament be dissolved.
After the vote, DA MP John Steenhuisen asked that the name of each MP who voted against the motion be recorded.
Five minutes later the whole of the opposition had left en masse, leaving ANC MPs to laud the party’s achievements such as a solar electricity plant, the 46% drop in road deaths during the Easter holidays and a local tyre manufacturing plant, all without the customary interjections and objections from the opposition.