South African opposition leaders piled pressure on President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday after a parliamentary vote of no confidence exposed deep rifts in his ANC party as it readies for a leadership battle.
Zuma survived the attempt to oust him, but he was weakened after at least 30 African National Congress lawmakers voted on Tuesday for a motion that would have forced him to resign.
The 75-year-old is due to step down as head of the party in December, and as national president before the 2019 general election.
Whoever succeeds him as party leader would be likely to be the next South African president, and Tuesday's vote underlined the fierce struggle for control of the party once led by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Zuma is seen as favouring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to take over, ahead of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"The opposition will now step up its campaign against Zuma -- he is the symbol that they use to scare voters (away from the ANC)," Achille Mbembe, political analyst at Wits University in Johannesburg, told AFP.
"This is the end of the post-colonial story when the liberation movement comes to power but then loses its legitimacy."
On Tuesday, Zuma secured 198 votes against 177 for the opposition motion, which would have needed 201 votes to gain a majority and oust him -- and his entire cabinet.
- 'Mortally wounded'? -
Many analysts said the vote, which was held by secret ballot, was closer than expected.
"Jacob Zuma survived yet again, protected by the party that elected him twice and shielded him from accountability countless times," Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, said Wednesday.
"It was the first time in 23 years of democracy that such a number of ANC MPs broke rank," he said, calling for early elections.
Julius Malema, head of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, said: "Our work is now bringing some positive results... We will eat this elephant piece by piece."
Criticism of Zuma from within the ANC has grown amid multiple corruption scandals and South Africa's mounting economic woes.
Several opposition parties led thousands of anti-Zuma protesters outside the national assembly before Tuesday's vote, while supporters of the president held a rival march.
Afterwards, Zuma vowed the ANC would win the 2019 elections, telling supporters: "We represent the majority of this country. The ANC is there, it's powerful, it's big, it's difficult to defeat."
The ANC parliamentary group celebrated victory over what it described as an attempted "soft coup".
Parliament speaker Baleka Mbete made a surprise decision to hold the ballot in secret after a campaign by the opposition who hoped to encourage ANC members to vote against their leader.
A handful of MPs have publicly joined calls from anti-apartheid veterans and trade unions for Zuma to resign, as South Africa endures record unemployment and a recession.
Public support for the ANC, which swept to power under Mandela in the first non-racial elections in 1994, slipped to 55 percent in last year's local polls -- its worst-ever result.
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