Every motion of no confidence against Zuma: what they were about – and why they failed

President Jacob Zuma and his ANC have bludgeoned opposition parties in yet another vote of no confidence against them, defeating the seventh such motion brought in almost as many years.

On Thursday (10 November), the National Assembly debated a motion of no confidence in Jacob Zuma brought by the Democratic Alliance,

After much back and forth between the parties, the ANC ultimately used its 249 seat majority to snuff out the opposition’s motion.

The ANC has a long history of employing this tactic, with every single motion of no confidence brought against Zuma (and one against speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete) being pushed aside by ANC MPs.

These are the motions of no confidence brought to the National Assembly, and how the voting went.


March 2010 – Zuma is unfit to hold office

The March 2010 motion of no confidence against Zuma was brought by the freshly formed Congress of the People (COPE), saying that the president had failed to uphold his office.

The motion was predominantly centred around a number of charges Zuma faced in the years prior, with his AIDS scandal and business interests highlighted. COPE argued that Zuma was unfit to hold office.

In response to the motion, the ANC put in a proposal that the motion of no confidence be switched and turned into a motion of confidence in Zuma, which the speaker allowed.

The motion – which was now to express confidence in Zuma – passed with 235 votes yes, and only 88 votes no.


December 2012 – Zuma failed to appear in Parliament to answer questions

The DA attempted to push through a motion of no confidence in Zuma once again, trying to get a vote on the matter before 7 December 2012 – just before the ANC’s elective conference.

The motion was ultimately withdrawn. The ANC accused the DA of trying to destabilise the party ahead of its conference, where the presidency of the ANC was to be decided.

Zuma went on to be re-elected as president of the ANC, securing his second term as president of the country in 2014.


September 2014 – Speaker Baleka Mbete is biased

In a slight switch up, the DA tabled a motion of no confidence in National Assembly speaker and ANC ‘top six’ member, Baleka Mbete, saying that she could not stop being biased against opposition parties in Parliament.

When the ANC again tried to switch the motion to a motion of confidence in Mbete, all opposition parties walked out of Parliament in protest, with DA leader Mmusi Maimane saying “they can do what they want”.

The ANC changed its mind and – having enough of a majority to proceed with the vote – voted unanimously to shoot down the motion of no confidence with 234 votes no, unopposed.


March 2015 – Zuma’s Nkandla saga and the Constitution

Follow a damning Constitutional Court ruling that president Jacob Zuma unduly benefitted from security upgrades done to his Nkandla home, and that he failed to act within his constitutional responsiblities in upholding the Public Protector’s report into the matter, the DA tabled another motion of no confidence in the president.

The ANC argued that the president had acted in good faith – being genuinely misinformed about the processes to follow – and had made the necessary changes by apologising to the nation and agreeing to pay back a reasonable portion of the money,

The motion failed to pass, with the ANC using its majority to push 211 votes no, versus the opposition’s 100 votes yes.


September 2015 – Zuma allowed Al Bashir to escape

After allowing Sudanese president Search Results Omar al-Bashir to leave the country while still being required by the International Crimes Court to hand him over, the Democratic Alliance tried to impeach Zuma under Section 89(1) of the Constitution.

Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority (compared to a motion of no confidence which requires a simple majority), which was always going to be unrealistic.

The impeachment failed, with the ANC majority again pushing through 211 no votes, versus 100 yes votes.


March 2016 – Zuma killed the economy with NeneGate 

Following a turbulent first quarter of 2016, after former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired, sending the South African market crashing, the DA sought once again to have National Assembly vote on a motion of no confidence in the president.

Opposition parties ended in a weaker position come voting time, after COPE members were thrown out for not listening to orders from the speaker – while the EFF walked out, saying it would not be part of an illegitimate process (referring to the ANC abusing its majority).

The end result left the DA and a handful of opposition parties to garner 99 votes yes, against an overwhelming 225 ANC majority voting no.


November 2016 – Zuma allowed the state to be captured

The latest vote of no confidence was brought again by the DA, following the Public Protector report into state capture, which implicated president Zuma and a number of ministers.

The DA, fed up with the constant defence of the president, appealed to ANC MPs to vote for South Africa, not Zuma. The ANC, however, said that the motion was premature, as the state capture saga was yet to be properly investigated, and the Public Protector made no findings against the president.

The vote gained the most opposition votes since 2010, with 126 members voting yes – however it was not enough to break the ANC majority, where 214 members voted no.


Motion of no confidence / Impeachment history

Date Yes No Abstain Did not vote
March 2010* 235 88 6 71
December 2012 Withdrawn
September 2014 0 234 0 166
March 2015 113 211 8 68
September 2015 100 211 17 72
March 2016 99 225 22 54
November 2016 126 214 1 59

* Motion was switched to motion of confidence

The problem of the secret ballot

Opposition parties have made many attempts to find a way to break through this massive barrier, primarily by trying to introduce a secret ballot, which would allow ANC members to ‘vote with the consciences’, without fear of facing repercussions for breaking ANC ranks.

Current Parliamentary rules stipulate that, in the name of transparency, names, parties and votes need to be recorded. The matter was taken to court in 2015, but the High Court ruled that it could not order how the National Assembly should be run, as it would be unconstitutional.

The ANC uses this court ruling to push that a secret ballot cannot be used; however the DA has argued that the ruling shows only that the High Court cannot interfere, and that the National Assembly can decide for itself. The opposition party has proposed that Parliament is within its rights to temporarily strike out the rule saying that names need to be recorded.

However, this would need to be debated and put before the rules committee – and for now, does nothing to stop the ANC’s majority.

Read: Zuma survives yet another no confidence vote

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Every motion of no confidence against Zuma: what they were about – and why they failed