A furious debate on the budget of the Presidency yesterday saw the opposition call for President Jacob Zuma to decline a second term of office in the interests of the country while the African National Congress (ANC) mounted a vigorous defence of the president.
Introducing his budget vote to the National Assembly, Mr Zuma claimed a long series of successes for his administration while opposition leaders threw charges of failure across the floor. It was perhaps the most concentrated attack on a sitting president in the democratic era.
Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko earned the ire of the ANC benches when she detailed a long list of leadership failures by Mr Zuma. She said: "In the interest of the country, I ask the president this: would he consider putting aside self-interest by not making himself available to serve a second term at the ANC elective conference later this year?
"This is what the people of SA want, and what many people in his party want. There are deep divisions in SA and in the ANC house today, and the president cannot overcome them. The greatest test of leadership is to know when to give it up and pass the torch to a new generation."
If Mr Zuma did not stand for another term, he could use the final two years of his tenure to repair the damage done in the first three.
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota charged that Mr Zuma had betrayed his oath of office to protect the constitution.
Referring to the furore around The Spear painting he said "the president, as the main defender of the constitution, failed Brett Murray, Ferial Haffajee, Liza Essers, who were exercising their constitutionally entrenched right. He thus also failed the nation, the controversy surrounding The Spear did not justify a dereliction of the president's solemn duty to the Constitution."
Mr Zuma remained silent while "the secretary-general of the ruling party, its official spokesman and the Minister of Higher Education resorted to extrajudicial measures to whip up emotions, manifestly trample on the constitutionally guaranteed rights, create fear among citizens, call for the boycott of a newspaper and divide the nation. This, I submit, was incitement to disregard constitutionalism in our democracy and to undermine the judiciary."
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa told Mr Zuma there were signs his office was losing its dignity and authority.
"It is puzzling how your party outside government and its tripartite alliance partners were allowed to undermine the Cabinet's decision on the e-tolling fiasco. Cabinet took a decision to proceed with the e-tolling system, which received the support of most political parties during the finance minister's budget vote.
"However, after leaks to the media linking the ANC's and Cosatu's investment arms to the e-tolling system, and in an apparent move by tripartite alliance partners to conceal their dodgy dealings, the Cabinet's decision on e-tolling was reversed by a few leaders who met outside government," Mr Holomisa said.
This situation was made worse when Mr Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe contradicted each other on the role of the ANC's Chancellor House in getting access to government tenders.
"For instance, early this year, Mr Motlanthe said in this house it was wrong for the investment arms of the alliance partners to access government tenders. However, in the same house last week you said exactly the opposite, despite the glaring conflict of interest," Mr Holomisa said.
"Given the fact that you, Mr President, see nothing wrong with this form of institutionalised corruption, (my party) is left with no choice but to seek legal opinion . and establish whether it cannot approach courts for redress as we did when we took the floor-crossing legislation to the Constitutional Court. There is a clear conflict of interest when the party that governs is first in the line for government tenders."
Mr Zuma will reply today.