July 21, 2017 / 11:38 AM / a month ago

South Africa's Malema says more than 60 ANC MPs will turn on Zuma

Julius Malema, the head of South Africa's ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), gestures during an interview with Reuters in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 20,2017.Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - More than 60 ANC members in South Africa's parliament will back a no-confidence vote against President Jacob Zuma if the ballot is secret, the leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), Julius Malema, said.

Toppling Zuma requires 50 of the 249 African National Congress members of parliament (MPs) to support the no-confidence motion and some have said publicly they want him removed, including former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, whose sacking in March triggered damaging debt ratings downgrades. South Africa's national assembly has 400 members.

Malema, a firebrand politician known for his colourful language, said in an interview late on Thursday, he had received personal commitments that ANC MPs would dump Zuma.

Malema, a former head of the ANC's Youth League before his expulsion from the party, could plausibly still have plenty of contacts in the organisation.

"I personally spoke to more than 60 MPs of the ANC who have committed that if we give them a secret ballot they will deliver," Malema told Reuters in his office.

"They've asked that this thing must be secret. They are not happy themselves," said Malema, seated in front of an EFF sign featuring a clenched black fist holding a spear, super-imposed over an African map.

Zuma faces the no-confidence motion on Aug. 8, the ninth time the opposition will have tried to unseat him by peeling off dissidents from the ruling party, whose majority has so far protected him.

But unlike previous attempts, this time the vote may not be open. The Constitutional Court has cleared the way for the Speaker to allow a secret ballot, though it remains unclear she will.

The ANC's official line is that the party will close ranks and back Zuma. Party officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Malema's remarks.

GROWING DISSENT

ANC MP Makhosi Khoza chose Nelson Mandela's birthday on Tuesday to denounce Zuma, making clear she would break party ranks.

"If you see one person doing that under such a hostile environment you must know that she must have powerful backing. She has a lot of backing," Malema said.

One ANC MP has told Reuters they would vote for Zuma's removal and the South African Communist Party, whose 17 MPs back the ANC in parliament, said in April Zuma should resign.

Tens of thousands of people took part in marches in April calling for Zuma, 75, to step down over a string of graft scandals and missteps as the economy is in recession and unemployment rising.

Malema, whose party supports expropriating white-owned land and the nationalisation of mines and banks, said economic misrule under Zuma was deepening apartheid's racial disparities.

"The problem is that as the gap widens the blacks become more poor and the whites become richer. As a result then we are two nations in one country, the rich people who are white and the poor people who are black," he said.

Malema said his party was still urging the landless to occupy unutilised land despite charges he faces for inciting property grabs.

"It's an EFF resolution and that resolution has not been suspended by any court of law. We are calling upon our people to occupy the land," he said.

Malema formed the EFF, known for its trademark red berets and rowdy behaviour in parliament, four years ago, and the party plans to hold a birthday bash next week in the port city of Durban in the heart of Zuma's Zulu political power base.

Durban's streets that day will run red with cattle blood.

"We are slaughtering 10 cattle because in our African culture it is not a celebration until there is slaughter. There must be some slaughter to thank the ancestors," Malema said.

Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy

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