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Jacob Zuma’s Fate Rests in South African Parliament’s Hands

A.N.C. members on Tuesday argued that removing Mr. Zuma would set a destabilizing and dangerous precedent, but they did not defend his tenure in office.

As the debate proceeded, crowds massed in Cape Town, the seat of the legislature, to listen to the proceedings, which were streamed and broadcast live. Protesters also gathered in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“We can expect mass mobilizations across the country and a massive battle within the A.N.C. before December,” said William Gumede, a scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand. “This will send an extremely negative message to investors and ratings agencies.”

Mr. Zuma’s opponents said the vote was essential to restoring confidence in the government and improving the economy. They repeatedly cited a long-running scandal involving the Guptas, a powerful family that has extensive business holdings and is close to Mr. Zuma.

“I am asking you today to overcome your fears, to show courage when the people of this country need you the most,” said Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which introduced the no-confidence motion. “I am asking you today to vote for hope — the hope that we can defeat the corruption that oppresses the people.”

He urged lawmakers to “vote with your conscience and remove this corrupt and broken president from office.”

Julius Malema, the leader of the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, asked members of the A.N.C., to which he once belonged, to distinguish between Mr. Zuma’s interests and their own.

“We are not here today to remove the democratically elected government of the A.N.C., which was voted for by our people in 2014,” he said, referring to the last national election. “Whether we like it or not, we must at all times respect the wish of the people.”

The vote, he said, was “not against the A.N.C.” but against its leader, whom Mr. Malema called “the most corrupt individual in this country.”

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 88, a veteran of the struggle to topple apartheid and the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, said that the “poisoned seed of corruption” had been planted well before South Africa’s transition to democracy, but that misrule by Mr. Zuma had “reached the point that the unthinkable became possible.”

Under Mr. Zuma, he said, the country was for sale “to the highest bidder.” He added: “This motion of no confidence is not against the A.N.C. We are not here to say ‘A.N.C. must fall.’ It is against corruption, it is against state capture, it is against one man.”

Nhlanhlakayise Moses Khubisa, the leader of the tiny National Freedom Party, said fundamental problems like poverty and unemployment as well as inadequate electricity, water and roads plagued South Africans and their economy. “Economic resources keep shrinking and our economy is not growing,” he said, “thus resulting in huge job losses and relegating the majority of South Africans to utter despair.”

South Africa’s unemployment rate is 27.4 percent and rising. Living conditions have improved since the demise of apartheid in 1994, but the gains have slowed. Public debt is rising, and experts say the country needs to restructure inefficient state-owned enterprises. After Mr. Zuma summarily dismissed a finance minister considered a bulwark against corruption, ratings agencies downgraded the country’s debt to junk status.

Mr. Zuma’s defenders were less vociferous on Tuesday this his critics. Nearly all focused on the argument that removing him would undermine democratic legitimacy and stability; no one argued that he had made South African more just, prosperous or efficient.

Puleng Mabe, an A.N.C. lawmaker, said that if the motion was enacted, it would amount to a coup d’état. He acknowledged that “the outrage in the public over the levels of real and perceived corruption must be addressed by this Parliament.” But he said the proper way to do that was through independent oversight, not toppling Mr. Zuma and his cabinet.

“The court of public opinion must not be allowed to become the benchmark of decision making,” Mr. Mave said. “This is even more important today, where social media seeks to influence the outcomes, even without subjecting itself to the test of veracity.”

Another A.N.C. lawmaker, Dorries Eunice Dlakude, said the secret ballot risked even greater interference in politics from powerful interests. She was one of several lawmakers who questioned the decision by the speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, to allow a secret ballot. Under the Constitution, Ms. Mbete would replace Mr. Zuma if the motion passed and he resigned.

“We are not sellouts,” Ms. Dlakude said.

Pieter Groenewald, the leader of the Freedom Front Plus, a party of white Afrikaners that allied itself with the Democratic Alliance after municipal elections last year that delivered a major blow to the A.N.C.’s control of Johannesburg and several other cities, argued that the motion was in the A.N.C.’s interest.

“What we have in South Africa is a president who is constantly doing blame shifting,” Mr. Groenewald said. “It’s always someone else’s fault.”

He urged members of the A.N.C. to abstain rather than vote against the resolution, warning that if they kept Mr. Zuma, voters would blame them, and not just the president.

Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst, said he was struck by the sober tone of the A.N.C. lawmakers.

“The A.N.C. I saw in today’s debate was very different from the arrogant party we normally see in Parliament,” Mr. Mathekga said in a phone interview. “ It was a complete shift in tone from previous motions of no confidence where they have defended Zuma.”

Source: NYT > World

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