South African parliamentarians will vote on a no-confidence motion against president Jacob Zuma on Thursday in a final bid to force the defiant head of state to obey an order from the ruling African National Congress to stand down.
The decision to risk the “nightmare scenario” of voting in favour of an opposition party’s motion against its own former leader and one of its most senior members was announced by ANC officials before a deadline given to Zuma to resign expired on Wednesday.
Shortly after news of the no-confidence vote broke, Zuma summoned state broadcasters to give a rambling TV interview, saying he was being “victimised”.
“No one has given me a reason for why they want me to resign,” he said. “People have been saying [Zuma must go] for years but they never give reasons. So why should I go now?”
Zuma added he had not defied the ANC’s call for him to step down, but had disagreed with it.
“I think it is baseless,” he said. “In the ANC you have to be convinced with facts. This has been done in a manner that I feel I am being victimised.”
Thursday’s vote will bring the political crisis to a climax, and is likely to result in the resignation of the president and the cabinet, in accordance with the constitution. Zuma’s place will be taken by Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC leader and deputy president, after a further poll of parliamentarians.
At dawn on a day of high drama, an elite South African police team raided the luxurious home of a family of controversial businessmen accused of improper dealings with the 75-year-old president.
The raid on the property of the wealthy Gupta family in Johannesburg was seen as an encouraging sign that Ramaphosa will move swiftly against those associated with the corruption allegations and mismanagement that have characterised Zuma’s nine years in power.
It also showed how much the president’s grip on power has waned in recent days. A raid against the Guptas would have been almost inconceivable just months ago.
Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the elite police unit known as the Hawks, said the operation was part of an investigation into allegations of influence-peddling in the government and the misuse of millions of dollars of public funds.
“We’re viewing this investigation in a very serious light. We’re not playing around in terms of making sure that those who are responsible in the so-called state capture, they take responsibility for it,” Mulaudzi said.
The term “state capture” was coined by the public prosecutor, a constitutionally appointed independent anti-corruption watchdog to describe how the Guptas have allegedly used their friendship with Zuma to influence ministerial appointments, secure multimillion-dollar government contracts and gain access to inside information. The Gupta family and Zuma deny any wrongdoing.
Three suspects arrested during the day’s raids are to appear in court on Thursday.
South Africa was pitched into political chaos when the ANC admitted on Monday that Zuma had defied its orders to resign, and that it had little idea of when the head of state would respond to its demand to leave office.
Paul Mashatile, the ANC treasurer-general, told reporters that parliament, where the party has a large majority, wanted to see Zuma out of office as soon as possible.
“For us, as the ANC leadership, we can no longer wait,” Mashatile said. “The decision has been taken and must be implemented.”
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s chief whip, said parliament would vote on a no-confidence motion on Thursday. “We would like to create certainty … to help people [who are] guessing what we are going to do next,” he said .
The failure to immediately force out Zuma, who faces a range of corruption charges and has become an electoral liability, has angered many South Africans. The raid on the home of the Guptas will go some way towards restoring the sense of optimism prompted by Ramaphosa’s election as ANC leader in December.
Zuma’s tumultuous nine years in power have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party that led South Africans to freedom from apartheid in 1994, but the former activist retains significant support among grassroots ANC activists in many parts of South Africa. His second five-year term officially expires in 2019.
Analysts have described the crisis as “a battle for the soul of the ANC” and “a referendum on the true balance of power within the party”.
Susan Booysen, a politics professor at Stellenbosch university, said that Zuma may still resign before a parliamentary vote, albeit grudgingly.
“I think that he is an angry person … and he is very reluctant to go,” Booysen said.
The ANC, in power for nearly 24 years, has weathered such crises before. In 2008, Zuma’s supporters forced out then-president Thabo Mbeki over allegations of abuse of power.
The party’s popularity has suffered during years of a flagging economy and deteriorating public finances. Unemployment remains high, and successive scandals have revealed deep mismanagement of public utilities.
The ANC suffered serious setbacks at municipal polls in 2016 and there are concerns among party strategists that it may be pushed into a coalition government after general elections due next year.