FACTSHEET: The 2 ways SA’s parliament can boot a president from office

South African president, Jacob Zuma, has survived a number of attempts to remove him from office. This factsheet breaks them down.

On 8 August 2017, another motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma was voted on. This factsheet has been updated to reflect that.

How many political lives does South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma have?

With the prospect of another motion of no confidence before the country’s parliament, Africa Check looked back at previous attempts to remove him from office.

There are two ways that a South African president can be booted from office. If members of South Africa’s parliament have lost confidence in the president they can resort to section 102 of the country’s constitution.

Alternatively, they can use section 89 if they believe the president has violated the constitution or the law, has committed serious misconduct or is unable to perform the functions of the office.

This factsheet explains the two different ways to remove the president and tallies up the ayes and the noes.

What is a motion of no confidence?

Section 102 of the South African constitution allows for members of parliament to remove the president from office if they have lost confidence in him.

A majority is needed for the motion to pass, professor of constitutional law at the University of Cape Town, Pierre de Vos, told Africa Check.

“The number of votes needed for a vote of no confidence would therefore normally be 201 out of 400. The number remains the same even if, say 200 MPs do not attend the sitting… then, clearly, the motion will not pass,” explained De Vos.

The five largest parties in parliament are the African National Congress (249 seats), the Democratic Alliance (89 seats), the Economic Freedom Fighters (25 seats), the Inkatha Freedom Party (10 seats) and the National Freedom Party (6 seats)

In the event a motion of no confidence passes, the president, his ministers and their deputies must resign.

Since Zuma took office, 5 draft resolutions about motions of no confidence in the president have been brought before the National Assembly, parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo told Africa Check. Three motions of no confidence were voted on, 1 was amended and 1 was withdrawn. (Note: On 8 August 2017, a fourth motion was voted on. This factsheet has been updated to reflect that.)

4 motions voted on

17 March 2015

A motion of no confidence in President Zuma was brought by the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane.

Maimane’s reasons for calling the motion were that under Zuma’s leadership:

“(a) independent institutions of the state have been politicised and weakened;

“(b) unemployment has escalated to unprecedented levels;

“(c) the economy is at its weakest point in recent history;

“(d) the right of access to quality education has been violated; and

“(e) corruption has spiralled out of control.”

The motion was unsuccessful.

In favour Against Abstained
113 221 8

Read the proceedings from the national assembly here.

1 March 2016

Maimane again brought a motion of no confidence against Zuma.

He moved that Zuma’s “irrational, irresponsible and reckless leadership had done immeasurable damage to the economy; eroded investor confidence; dramatically weakened the rand; and placed fiscal and economic stability at risk”.

The motion was unsuccessful.

In favour Against Abstained
99 225 22

Read the proceedings of the national assembly here.

10 November 2016

This motion of no confidence was proposed by the leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane. He moved that:

“(1) under [Zuma’s] irrational, irresponsible and reckless leadership –

“(a) important institutions of state have been captured by private interest;

“(b) state resources, notably state security, law enforcement and prosecuting authorities have been mobilised to shield those interests from public scrutiny and investigation;

“(2) the president has allegedly attempted to evade accountability to the public protector and frustrated her efforts to fulfil her constitutional mandate; and

“(3) his derelict leadership has resulted in a collapse of public confidence in the president of the Republic of South Africa, a government at war with itself and that this ultimately has

undermined efforts to restore confidence in the South African economy.”

The motion was unsuccessful.

In favour Against Abstained
126 214 1

Read the proceedings of the national assembly here.

8 August 2017

This motion of no confidence was brought in April 2017 by the leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane, on the grounds of Zuma’s “continued irrational, irresponsible and reckless leadership”.

In particular, Maimane cited Zuma’s “decision to recall former minister of finance Pravin Gordhan and former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas from an international roadshow” which “led to the plummeting of the rand”.

The motion of no confidence was delayed because the United Democratic Movement applied to South Africa’s constitutional court for the vote on it to be conducted through a secret ballot.

The court did not order this, but said that the “speaker of the national assembly has the constitutional power to prescribe that voting in a motion of no confidence in the president of the Republic of South Africa be conducted by secret ballot”.

On 7 August 2017, speaker of the national assembly, Baleka Mbete, exercised this power in announcing a secret ballot.

The motion was unsuccessful.

In favour Against Abstained
177 198 9

We will post a link to the proceedings from the national assembly when it is published.

1 motion amended

18 March 2010

The Congress of the People’s Mvume Dandala proposed a motion of no confidence in the president for his “failure to live up to the expectations of a broad spectrum of South Africans”.

The African National Congress’ Ngoako Ramatlhodi moved to amend the motion to state that “the house has full confidence in the president of the Republic of South Africa and appreciates his leadership of the government and nation”.

Of the members present for the vote, 235 voted to amend the motion, 88 voted against amending the motion and 5 abstained. As a result, the amendment was passed.

With regards to the new motion – that “the house has full confidence in the president” – 242 members of parliament voted in favour, 83 voted against and 6 abstained. The motion, as amended, was agreed to.

In favour Against Abstain
242 83 6

Read the proceedings of the national assembly here.

1 motion withdrawn

3 March 2015

A motion of no confidence in Zuma was proposed by Agang SA member of parliament, Molapi Plouamma. Addressing the house, he stated that “during the tenure of President Jacob Zuma as president of the Republic of South Africa:

“(a) economic growth has fallen to around 1.4%;

“(b) more and more South Africans are constantly and increasingly falling victim to violent crimes;

“(c) corruption has been established in South Africa as a constant;

“(d) the promotion of the unity of the nation has been seriously compromised…”

Plouamma asked the speaker of the national assembly, Baleka Mbete, to recuse herself from presiding over the debate, but she refused.

“In that case, Madam Speaker, I decline to move the motion that is printed in my name on the order paper. I withdraw it,” Plouamma said.

Read the minutes of the proceedings of the national assembly here.

Removal according to constitution’s section 89

Section 89 of the South African constitution allows for the removal of the president. This is sometimes referred to as “impeachment”, although that term is not used in the South African constitution.

A president can only be removed on the following grounds:

  1. a serious violation of the constitution or the law,
  2. serious misconduct,
  3. inability to perform the functions of the office.

“Two-thirds of the 400 MPs must support it before the president is removed from office,” De Vos said.

If a president is removed in this way, he may not receive the usual benefits of the presidency and cannot serve in any public office afterwards.

There has been one attempt to remove Zuma in this way.

5 April 2016

A motion to remove Zuma was proposed by the leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane. He listed the following reasons, amongst others, in support of Zuma’s removal:

  • “Zuma’s failure to comply with the remedial action taken by the public protector as set out in her report ‘Secure in Comfort’” was unlawful and inconsistent with the constitution,
  • “Zuma’s actions in requesting the police minister Nathi Nhleko to determine the amount he should repay for the costs of upgrading his private home in Nkandla” was inconsistent with the public protector’s prescribed remedial action and, as a result was inconsistent with the constitution,
  • Zuma had “seriously violated the constitution when he undermined the public protector’s findings by instituting parallel investigative processes and when he failed to implement the public protector’s remedial action”,
  • Zuma’s “action to appoint Mr Menzi Simelane as the national director of public prosecutions is inconsistent with the constitution and invalid”.

The motion was put to vote and did not pass.

In favour Against Abstain
143 235 0

Read the minutes of the proceedings of the national assembly here.

Note: This fact-sheet will be updated if Zuma faces another motion of no confidence or attempt to remove him from office.

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