Zuma parries attacks on leadership

South African President Jacob Zuma hit back at accusations he is failing the county before a raucous parliamentary hearing on Thursday, hours after allies torpedoed attempts to censure him.

Facing accusations he mismanaged the economy, was absent during deadly labour unrest and wasted millions of taxpayers' money on upgrading a private residence, a visibly angered Zuma struck back.

He described allegations that South Africa was leaderless as "totally out of order."

"There's a leadership in this country," he said. "There's a leadership in government, there's a leadership in society."

It was a rare flash of steel for the normally jovial leader.

In one month Zuma faces the ANC's electoral conference, which will go a long way toward decided whether he remains president of Africa's largest economy for another five years.

That December meeting may yet bring a leadership challenge from within the ANC, but first he faced one of the most bruising days of his political life.

Early in the morning, ANC parliamentarians managed to stop a debate on a motion of no confidence, before a debate could take place.

National Assembly speaker and ANC veteran Max Sisulu used the party's dominance to set aside the motion, brought jointly by eight opposition parties.

The ANC holds just under two-thirds of the seats in the house.

But Zuma's allies could not stop opposition members from using Zuma's scheduled appearance before parliament as a surrogate censure debate.

"Right now, the country is in turmoil; the levels of unrest and civil disobedience are climbing every day," said former ANC defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, now the leader of the Congress of the People.

"Our situation is going to be become completely untenable."

Leader of the Democratic Alliance, Lindiwe Mazibuko piled on the pressure, with barbed questions about the use of $28 million of state funds to renovate Zuma's Nkandla estate.

Zuma accused the opposition of "making a laughing stock" of his family, by going to Nkandla and taking pictures of the compound.

"I take exception to this," he said.

"My name is being used wrongly. My family is being undermined... I feel very aggrieved."

"The Zuma family has built its own home, for its own comfort."