Mbeki wades into no-confidence debate against Zuma

Mbeki wades into no-confidence debate against Zuma
A member of the African National Congress shouts in support of South African President Jacob Zuma during a recent meeting in Durban. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2017

Mbeki wades into no-confidence debate against Zuma

Mbeki wades into no-confidence debate against Zuma

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s ex-leader Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday waded into a no-confidence debate against President Jacob Zuma, urging lawmakers to set aside political affiliation during next week’s vote.

A parliamentary motion of no confidence in the president is due on April 18 following the controversial sacking of respected South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last month.
Zuma has easily survived previous such votes against him, thanks to the majority the ruling African National Congress (ANC) enjoys in Parliament.
But in an article that extensively quoted the country’s constitution, Mbeki said it is “obvious and logical” that lawmakers “must act in parliament as the voice of the people, not the voice of the political parties to which they belong.”
“It may be that the current controversy has’ at last, imposed on our country the opportunity and obligation the better to define the constitutional and moral relationship between the people and their elected representatives,” he said in an article published by The Star daily.
Gordhan’s removal has triggered unprecedented criticism from ANC leaders, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as the party’s chief whip, its treasurer and several ANC allies.
But days later, after a party meeting, the ANC threw its weight behind Zuma and vowed to shoot down the no-confidence motion brought by the opposition.
Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president in 1999, was himself recalled by the ANC in September 2008 before the end of his second term and Zuma took over.
But Zuma’s presidency has been dogged by corruption scandals and has widened divisions in the party.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched through South African cities on Friday demanding Zuma to step down. More anti-Zuma demonstrations are planned for Wednesday in Pretoria.
Zuma, who turns 75 on Wednesday, is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, and as president ahead of the 2019 general election. Zuma has accused some protesters of racism after last week’s protests drew tens of thousands of people.
Speaking at a memorial to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the assassination of anti-apartheid and Communist Party leader Chris Hani — whose murder led to nationwide riots — Zuma said South Africa had not yet built a non-racial society decades after white-minority rule ended in 1994.
In his first public response to the protests, Zuma said they “demonstrated that racism is real” in South Africa.
“Many placards and posters displayed beliefs that we thought had been buried in 1994, with some posters depicting black people as baboons,” the president said.
“It is clear that some of our white compatriots regard black people as being lesser human beings or sub-human.”
Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane, head of the Democratic Alliance (DA), which has strong support among white people, had called for a march in Johannesburg, and held a rally of more than 10,000 people.
Maimane’s spokesman Mabine Seabe said of Zuma’s comments: “He cannot argue based on policy and is trying to distract from the issues by using race as a scapegoat.”
Zuma’s spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga also said there were posters in Pretoria that depicted black people as baboons.
Ngqulunga sent a picture to Reuters that has been used on Twitter showing a Zuma caricature.
Some placards during the protests used vulgar language against Zuma, Reuters witnesses said.
“It’s been proven before that if you place a racial bombshell in a conversation it clouds the issues,” said Gwen Ngwenya, the chief operating officer of the South African Institute of Race Relations in Johannesburg.
“It’s an effective spin strategy that’s very shrewd ... because it plays on historical racial tensions in South Africa.”