South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) put down a no-confidence motion in President Jacob Zuma this week, drawing a contemptuous response from ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko explained that her motion was based on her party's view that under Zuma's leadership "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."
Mazibuko also insisted that the president should have responded to a "three-day ultimatum" she had issued via sympathetic media.
Her position was backed by the rag, tag and bobtail of minority parliamentary parties from Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party to the grandiosely named Congress of the People (Cope), composed of former ANC members who could not reconcile themselves to the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki.
Cope leader and ex-defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, whose abrasive style has alienated former supporters, lumped together Marikana, the "appalling Nkandlagate scandal," failure to provide school children with textbooks, finance agencies' decisions to downgrade South Africa's credit ratings, disrespect for the constitution, growing unemployment and a "rising tide" of public service corruption.
"All of these collectively point to the reality that ours is a country which lacks decisive leadership and vision," he pontificated, demanding a secret ballot on the issue.
The motion proposed under section 102 of the constitution would, if carried, force Zuma to resign.
The ANC chief whip was scornful of what he called a "desperate, if not silly, publicity stunt by a group of attention-seeking opposition leaders," adding that it made a mockery of parliament.
Motshekga put down a motion reaffirming parliamentary full confidence "in the able leadership of President Jacob Zuma."
The Young Communist League derided the DA motion as "frivolous and unnecessary," insisting that parliament should be dealing with how to increase service delivery and improve the lives of communities rather than "entertaining publicity stunts by liberals and disgruntled dissidents."
Mazibuko's no-confidence motion followed last weekend's stunt when DA leader Helen Zille, who doubles as Western Cape prime minister, announced that she would march on the remote rural outpost of Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal.
Her intention was to draw attention to the scale of public expenditure in Nkandla, the birthplace and private home of President Zuma.
She said that she would "inspect" the roads around the Zuma family home and attempt to enter the compound, which is said to have police, medical and fire service facilities, an underground bunker and a helipad.
Zuma opponents complain that state responsibility for security modifications do not justify the level of public money spent, insisting that the president ought to have borne the cost of improvement.
Limpopo Communist Party (SACP) secretary Justice Piitso, a former ambassador to Cuba, pointed out in the SACP Umsebenzi (The Worker) online site that the government is engaged in a gigantic programme of infrastructural development initiatives across rural areas and townships.
Listing some of them, Piitso noted that at none of the other locations has the DA "made such voluminous noise as the Nkandla rural development project."
The ANC declared that Zille's actions were unprecedented as the first attempt to march on a president's home and, in the event, ANC supporters in the area blocked the road to Nkandla and police persuaded Zille to leave, having had her stunt duly attested by the media.
One of South Africa's post-apartheid anomalies is that the ruling party, which routinely wins the backing of over 60 per cent of the electorate, is not backed by a single media house.
The mass media that enthused about apartheid rule or pretended it wasn't happening still has a stranglehold on newspaper provision and never tires of lecturing the government on media freedom.
Even when black entrepreneurs come on board as part of the black economic empowerment programme, it is understood that there can be no change of editorial line.
This media quasi-monopoly is enforced, as in Britain, by the ruthless refusal of corporate advertising to alternative or community publications, making their survival problematic.
The liberal media postures as though it had always fought for democracy and frequently eulogises Nelson Mandela and other ANC stalwarts as a means of bashing current leaders.
Yet when Mandela suggested in the 1990s that the Sunday Times might be bought by the ANC, there was uproar as though editorial integrity could only be guaranteed by the continuing grip of those who served apartheid.
"Today, the same media that once supported what was declared by the UN as a crime against humanity finds it easy to act as the sole conveyor of the truth about the direction of society," commented SACP media subcommittee member Robert Nkuna.
Who controls the media is not an academic question, especially with the ANC national conference in Mangaung just five weeks away.
While the SACP, the trade unions and the ANC leadership are stressing the need for unity and a focus on policies, the media obsesses about personalities, internal friction and scandals - both real and imagined - to the sole benefit of the reconstituted pro-apartheid forces represented by the Democratic Alliance.
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