CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday survived an impeachment vote in parliament launched after the constitutional court ruled he had ignored an order to repay state funds spent on his private home.
Zuma, whose colorful private life has often overshadowed his status as the leader of Africa’s most industrialized economy, came through the impeachment move thanks to the African National Congress’s big majority in the 400-seat assembly.
But the fall-out from the crisis has engendered political uncertainty which investors fear might yet hasten a credit ratings downgrade by ratings agencies.
Zuma, 73, who was not at the fiery session in parliament on Tuesday, may be safe for now. But his image has been further dented and many believe his trademark charm which has ensured him survival for so long might not be enough to keep him politically afloat indefinitely.
The ANC, which controls almost two-thirds of the assembly, gave Zuma the support he needed as expected, with 233 lawmakers voting against the impeachment motion and 143 voting in favor.
The rand ZAR=D3 weakened by more than 2 percent, partly on political risk jitters over the vote.
The motion, launched by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), led to an emotional debate following last week’s ruling by the court that the president had breached the constitution by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent on renovating his home.
“The choice is whether or not you will choose to protect your oath of office that you took here in this house, to protect the constitution, or to serve Jacob Zuma,” Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA party said.
Julius Malema, leader of the smaller opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters, said: “Zuma and the ANC want to convert South Africa into a banana republic.”
ANC lawmakers argued that Zuma had not violated the constitution deliberately and did not deserve to be impeached. But they acknowledged the party had much to do to rebuild its image.
“There has been damage on the part of the ANC. We need to go down on the ground and explain exactly what happened. We still have a lot to do,” ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu told reporters outside parliament. “We believe him (Zuma). We accept his apology. We think we can now move forward.”
Zuma had already secured the backing of top ANC officials on Friday, after apologizing for failing to repay some of the money spent on his residence.
“The president has apologized and that’s the humility that is necessary for any leader,” ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe told 702 Talk Radio, after a wider group of party members met on Monday to discuss Zuma.
Zuma has survived several political and personal scandals, fending off accusations of corruption, influence peddling and even rape before he took office in 2009.
On March 1, he survived his second no-confidence vote in a year over what the DA party called his reckless handling of the economy.
That vote came after Zuma was widely criticized in December when he changed finance ministers twice in a week, sending the rand plummeting and alarming investors.
But the latest scandal is arguably the biggest to hit the president.
In late March, the ANC backed Zuma after a party summit following allegations of political interference by his business friends, the Gupta family.
Zuma has insisted his ties with the Guptas are above board, but the opposition demanded his resignation after senior officials accused the family of wielding undue influence in government appointments and activities. The Guptas say they are pawns in a plot to oust Zuma.
Investors fear further uncertainty could lead to a ratings downgrade, potentially into “junk” territory, and raise borrowing costs.
Speaking after the vote, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said ratings agencies would take the political situation into account when reviewing South Africa’s credit rating.
“Politics, economics and the fiscal situation are all things ratings agencies watch out for. South Africans should be aware of that,” Gordhan told Reuters.
“The controversies surrounding Mr. Zuma’s scandal-racked presidency will probably continue for some time yet. This will erode South Africa’s reputation among investors and reduce the government’s ability to push for vital reforms,” John Ashbourne, London-based Africa economist at Capital Economics said.
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, who served under Nelson Mandela for 11 years, said Zuma should resign.
“I think it’s in all our interest that the President actually steps aside,” Manuel said in an interview published online by the Soweto TV channel.
Additional reporting by James Macharia and Stella Mapenzauswa in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Richard Balmforth