President Jacob Zuma. Picture: SAM MKOKELI
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: SAM MKOKELI

THE African National Congress (ANC) in Parliament seemed to buckle under pressure on Wednesday as it backtracked on blocking a proposed motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

Earlier this month, the ANC’s parliamentary caucus said it would not allow the motion by opposition parties to be debated because it was "frivolous" and based on "allegations".

But on Wednesday, ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga said the motion was "serious in nature and could have far-reaching implications for Parliament, this country and our democracy".

He said the ANC would agree to the debate on the motion, but it would be tabled only next year.

Opposition parties including the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Congress of the People brought the motion on the grounds that under Mr Zuma, "the justice system has been politicised and weakened; corruption has spiralled out of control; unemployment continues to increase; the economy is weakening and the right of access to quality education has been violated".

Following the stonewalling of the motion in Parliament last week, opposition parties went to court in a bid to compel Parliament to hold the debate before it rises today. The matter was heard in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday and judgment is expected on Thursday.

Lawyers for the opposition parties argued that the motion of no confidence needed to be debated in Parliament on Thursday or it would effectively lapse.

The constitution stipulates that a no-confidence motion can be brought against the president and, if it is supported by the majority of the National Assembly, the president and his Cabinet must step down.

"Consistent with our longstanding view, which also forms part of our argument in the Western Cape High Court, we have no misgivings about debating motions in the house, including the motion of no confidence in the president — which is a matter that is provided for in the constitution," Mr Motshekga said on Wednesday.

However, he said it was not possible for the debate to take place before the last sitting as MPs had other commitments and cancelling them "would place a significant administrative, logistical and financial burden on the institution".

"We will impress upon Parliament that this motion be scheduled for debate by the National Assembly on the week of February 26 2013."

Mr Motshekga said he was aware that National Assembly rules stipulated that the motion — along with other parliamentary business — would lapse when Parliament rises.

"As the majority party we commit to support the revival of this motion, to ensure that it returns back to the house in its current form," he said.

In a joint statement, the opposition parties said they rejected his proposal to debate the motion next year.

"This phenomenal backtracking from the ANC chief whip, who two weeks ago tried to block the motion from being heard at all, continues to undermine ... the constitution, which enables the National Assembly to remove a sitting president through a majority vote," the statement read.

"With 75 minutes allocated to farewell speeches alone in the programme tomorrow, Dr Motshekga’s argument that there is no time to consider this matter until February 2013 rings hollow."