Earlier this week, President Jacob Zuma survived a vote of no confidence by the South African Parliament. The no confidence vote, his eighth since coming into power in 2009, was won by a narrow margin of 21 votes.
The news was celebrated by members of his party, the African National Congress (ANC), but it appears to be a hollow victory. While Zuma remains in power, for now, the vote showed that at least 26 members of his own party voted in favour of the president stepping down.
Many analysts had predicted that this would be the vote that would finally dethrone the 75-year-old president, whose time in office has been marred with scandals. For instance, last year, Zuma was indicted for violating the Constitution in a scandal where the president had used public funds to improve his house. The indictment prompted the previous no confidence vote, but it was a vote that he had won easily: 235-143.
However, one scandal in particular that Zuma cannot seem to shake is a corruption inquiry in relation to the Gupta family. The Guptas are one of South Africa’s most powerful and affluent families, and have long been marked as having a very close relationship with the president. Earlier this year, a public protector called for a judge-led inquiry to investigate potential profiteering, a claim both Zuma and the Guptas deny.
While the president is due to step down in December of this year, the recent vote highlights his increasing unpopularity. For example, a recent poll of South Africans shows that 54% of the population want Zuma to resign.
Meanwhile, many within the ANC are now stuck in an unenviable position, as the party is clinging to a minor national lead in the polls. With that said, while getting rid of President Zuma would give the opposition a huge boost, staying by his side until the end of the year could also drag their popularity down to similar levels as his.
Despite these factors, a triumphant Zuma came to speak after the vote, addressing his supporters: “I’ve just come to say thank you to all of you. Those comrades who are in parliament needed the support from the membership. You came in your numbers to demonstrate that the ANC is there, is powerful, is big. It is difficult to defeat the ANC, but you can try,” he said.
Furthermore, the vote, which the ANC has described as a ‘soft coup,’ leaves South Africa in an unstable position for the next four months until the president steps down. South Africa is an economic and political benchmark for the nations in the region, and fears of the country sliding into instability and dragging the region along with it remain high.
Moreover, Zuma is a highly divisive leader, with the nation becoming increasingly polarized regarding his presidency, even if just for four more months. Nonetheless, South Africa needs the Zuma era to end to begin their attempt to heal the divide for the future.