Opposition parties rejoice as Mbete gives secret ballot thumbs up

Squeeze put on South Africa's MPs as looming vote threatens Zuma's reign

"It must be clear that the motion to remove president Zuma does not represent the 62 percent who voted in favour of him", Zikalala told a room full of ANC delegates that included ministers, deputy ministers, the premier, MECs and mayors.

"MPs now have no excuse", DA leader Musi Maimane said. "The people of South Africa also look to parliament for signals of hope", Ms Mbete, a long-time Zuma ally, said before announcing her decision.

But Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng found that while Mbete held the power to decide if the vote can be conducted by secret ballot, the discretion to do so remained hers.

He frequently deviated from his scripted speech to remonstrate, passionately telling delegates that the vote of no confidence was about the removal of Zuma and dislodging the ANC, for which he received loud applause.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party was not surprised by Mbete's decision and it supported it.

"If Baleka went against the party line‚ in the open‚ what stops an ANC MP from going against the line in secret?" he asked.

Eight previous such motions against Zuma have failed with the ANC backing the president, but they were all held through an open process.

"This is untrue and it is regrettable that Parliament was not given an opportunity to provide clarity and comment on these claims, which the newspaper said it had obtained from several unnamed sources", Parliament said in a terse statement.

For those ANC MPs anxious about supporting an opposition motion‚ they now have the option to abstain, meaning the ruling party will not have the absolute majority in support of Zuma as in previous cases.

Another, who also declined to be named, said: "We are committed to defend our movement".

Meanwhile, ANC veteran Cheryl Carolus says all South Africans have to accept joint responsibility for the detreating state of leadership in the country.

Monday's surprise announcement on the vote, which could end Zuma's presidency, was made by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete at a news conference in Cape Town.

Some analysts said Zuma could still survive the vote.

Mbete addressed the media in Cape Town on Monday afternoon. The statistics agency said the country was in a "precarious position" of not creating enough jobs to make a dent in poverty.

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