JOHANNESBURG—Political tensions are rising in South Africa as parliament begins debating a motion to impeach President Jacob Zuma. It’s a first for South Africa, and tempers were running hot as the parliamentary session opened Tuesday.
The debate comes less than a week after the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to pay back part of the $16 million in public funds used for upgrades to his private home last year. The court said the president violated the Constitution by disregarding the Public Protector’s recommendation for him to pay for non-security-related features built using these funds.
The court also found fault with parliament. A parliamentary committee had said Zuma did not need to repay the money. The Constitutional Court said lawmakers failed to hold the executive to account.
In a nationally televised speech Friday, Zuma apologized.
Opposition parties want Zuma removed from office but do not have the two-thirds majority vote in parliament to impeach him.
The ruling ANC party has rallied around the president. Coming out of a strategy session Monday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe made it clear that his party is ready to use its majority to oppose the impeachment motion.
“If they want to make proposals because it makes sense for them and it gives them public attention, then fine. We can’t stop them from doing it,” Mantashe said.
Zuma support cracking
But there are signs of cracks within Zuma’s support base. The army union, ANC war veterans, and former senior government officials are some of those who have called for Zuma to go.
Political analyst Sanusha Naidu says defending Zuma will be damaging for ANC members of parliament.
“You have got the domestic public opinion on the outside as well. So it’s going to be a difficulty, because those that are going to try and circumvent it, have to make sure that they want to do this in a public standing in the way they want to,” Naidu said.
The Democratic Alliance party is calling on ANC lawmakers to break ranks and back impeachment. The Economic Freedom Fighters party says if the motion fails in parliament, they will take to the streets.