In Depth

Fact Check: Is Jacob Zuma running out of political lives?

South Africa's President faces another vote of no confidence - and the polls are looking ominous

South African President Jacob Zuma is facing his fifth vote of no confidence, with even his most powerful political allies calling for his resignation following a string of scandals.

The motion has been tabled by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition party, after Zuma sacked finance minister Pravin Gordhan against the wishes of senior members of his African National Congress (ANC) party.

Gordhan was replaced by Malusi Gigaba, a Zuma loyalist with no business or financial experience.

Zuma is defiant and insists he has the full backing of his party and the country - but has the 75-year-old run out of political lives?

What does Zuma say?

Speaking last week, after South Africa's supreme court ruled the no-confidence motion could be held in private, Zuma said there was no evidence the party or the public were unhappy with his leadership.

"The ANC elected me to be president," he told parliament. "The day the ANC thinks I can't be president, it will remove me. The ANC has not done so, so I can't do so."

What does the public think?

Most polls give the so-called "people's president" the lowest approval rating for any leader since the end of apartheid.

Nearly two-thirds of South Africans think he should stand down, according to an Ipsos survey conducted last month.

In addition, the poll found 62 per cent of ANC voters disapprove of Zuma, with 18 per cent saying they support him completely.

"This is a major decline for the president, who had the support of 54 per cent of ANC voters in December 2016," says eNCA news channel, which commissioned the survey.

The scale of public dissatisfaction with the ANC and its leader was evident in last year's municipal elections, which were widely billed as a referendum on Zuma's premiership. The party suffered its biggest electoral setback since it swept to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela and lost control of key urban areas to the DA.

However, "talk to people in Zuma's heartland in rural KwaZulu-Natal and the support for their man is unwavering," says the BBC's Alastair Leithead.

What about the ANC?

After the secret ballot ruling was handed down, the party publicly rallied behind its leader, with chief whip, Jackson Mthembu saying: "We have unqualified and unequivocal confidence in the ANC caucus not to vote in support of a motion to remove the president."

However, behind closed doors, divisions run deep.

"I would vote for him to go," one ANC MP told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "He is ruining the country."

Several ANC grandees, including deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Gwede Mantashe, also broke rank and openly criticised Zuma over his cabinet reshuffle, a move that additionally lost the President the support of his party's traditional allies - the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.

So is Zuma on his way out?

While the President appears to have lost the support of most ordinary South Africans, it would be unwise to predict the political demise of a man who has spent his entire career rewarding loyalty.

In order for the motion of no confidence to succeed, at least 50 ANC MPs would have to cross the floor and that is unlikely to happen, even if the vote is held in secret.

"Zuma is doing everything possible to make the case for him to be removed as president," says journalist Ranjeni Munusamy in the Daily Maverick. "Still, he remains untouchable."


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