Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition Lindiwe Mazibuko gave notice of a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon.
The motion was brought on the grounds "that under his leadership the justice system has been politicised and weakened; corruption has spiralled out of control; unemployment continues to increase, the economy is weakening, and, the right of access to quality education has been violated".
The motion was "mandated" by eight opposition parties, including the African Christian Democratic Party, the Azanian People's Organisation, the Congress of the People, the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front Plus, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the United Christian Democratic Party and the United Democratic Movement.
The African National Congress, in a statement issued later on Thursday by its chief whip's office, labelled the notice of motion a "desperate, if not silly, publicity stunt".
Briefing the media ahead of the National Assembly's 2pm sitting, Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota - flanked by leaders and representatives from the other seven parties - said the motion was prompted by a "mounting crisis of leadership" in South Africa.
It was being brought in terms of Section 102 of the Constitution.
This section states that "if the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the president, the president and other members of Cabinet and any deputy ministers must resign".
Lekota said the joint decision had been triggered by the Marikana tragedy; the "appalling Nkandlagate scandal"; the government's failure to deliver textbooks to school children in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape; the downgrading of South Africa's credit rating by two major rating agencies; a "mounting disrespect" for the country's Constitution and judiciary; the growing number of unemployed; and a "rising tide" of corruption in the public service.
"All of these collectively point to the reality that ours is a country which lacks decisive leadership and vision," he said.
Lekota said the opposition parties were seeking a "secret ballot" on the matter in the House.
"The situation that has arisen in the country has touched our consciences. We feel that if we don't raise this matter [in] the House, we would be failing in our duty.
"It is necessary that we ask and obtain at least assurance by the Speaker that there should be a secret ballot.
"Let each and every member in the National Assembly be given full protection, and an opportunity to exercise their vote, guided by their conscience, and not be threatened..." he said.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said it had not been an easy decision to opt to participate in a no-confidence vote. He and his party had "done its best" to support all the presidents of South Africa.
"However, we have reached a point at which we can no longer support this president, and if we continue to support him we become part of his failures, and the failures into which he has now led our country," he said.
ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe said he had also found the decision a difficult one, "but having considered the state of the country... and particularly the amount of money that is being spent on the president's private residence, we feel we have no option" (but to do so).
Responding to a question, Mazibuko said the motion was an important one and "frankly, a dereliction of duty for Parliament not to table it and debate it at the earliest opportunity".
The opposition grouping would "appeal to every forum that makes programming decisions, to ensure that this debate takes place as soon as possible".
These would include the chief whips' forum, the programming committee and the programming whips of Parliament.
"I have no doubt that the Speaker will recognise the gravity and importance, not only of this motion, but of the fact that this many opposition parties have come together and submitted it, to make it a priority to table it as soon as possible," she said.
In its statement, the ANC said it "reaffirms its resolve to quash any frivolous and narrow publicity-seeking gimmicks masquerading as motions in the National Assembly by some opposition parties.
"The so-called 'motion of no confidence' in President Jacob Zuma is a desperate, if not silly, publicity stunt by a group of attention-seeking opposition leaders."
It made a mockery of Parliament.
Also on Thursday, ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga moved an ANC notice of motion proposing that Parliament "reaffirm its full confidence in the able leadership of President Jacob Zuma".