South Africa

A question of confidence: How secure is President Zuma?

By Ranjeni Munusamy 2 March 2016

Predictably, an attempt by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to pass a vote of no confidence in Parliament against President Jacob Zuma failed on Tuesday. The DA apparently believed that they could appeal to the consciences of ANC Members of Parliament to vote in their favour to change the pattern of failed no confidence motions. What the DA seems not to understand is that the issue of confidence in the president is beyond what 400 MPs think but what the sentiment is in ANC structures and in communities across the country. The pressure point is not Parliament, but the heart of the ANC. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

DA MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition Mmusi Maimane, drove home the point on Tuesday that throughout the debate on their motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma, ANC members could not defend his track record or say why they were confident in his leadership. It is true that the ANC has a serious problem in justifying its support for Zuma at this point in his presidency. But thanks to the DA, it was forced to rally behind and defend the president – albeit awkwardly and unconvincingly.

Though Zuma claims he does not know what the big deal was, his removal of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in December cast serious doubt about his leadership and decision-making. While many people have focused on the economic toll of this decision on the country, it is difficult to measure the exact effect this episode had on support levels for the president, particularly in his Cabinet and in his party.

Of course the ANC had to put up the pretence of supporting Zuma at that time, particularly in light of the #ZumaMustFall marches that took place. Like with the DA’s repeated attempts to pass a no-confidence motion against the president in Parliament, the #ZumaMustFall movement had exactly the opposite effect from what it set out to achieve – compelling the ANC to stand by its man.

But Zuma’s U-turn on the Nkandla matter in the Constitutional Court last month made loyalty to the president even more testing. Not only did he demonstrate contempt for the ANC by pulling the surprise move, it led to everyone who came out in support of his disrespect for the Office of the Public Protector look foolish. It was a great lesson for all ANC members on how not to sacrifice their integrity by offering blind support for their leader.

The tipping point, however, has been Zuma’s approach towards Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, particularly relating to his battle with commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) Tom Moyane. It is no secret in the ANC that Gordhan had wanted to leave the finance ministry from 2013 but stayed in the position until Zuma appointed a new Cabinet in 2014. The reasons for his unhappiness included the lack of support for the cost cutting measures he had announced in consecutive budgets and the fact that he was undermined in the public sector wage negotiations when a settlement was reached with the unions above what the Treasury had budgeted for.

For Gordhan to return to the finance portfolio in light of the problems he had experienced before could not have been easy for him. He did so in December because he was aware that the country and the ANC needed him to undo the damage Zuma had inflicted and stabilise the economy.

For Gordhan to be undermined again and needled by Zuma and the people he controls just two months later is unsettling for the finance minister, and concerning to everyone observing it. Gordhan has been forthright about his problems with SARS and in a statement on Friday made it clear that there is a surreptitious agenda behind the Hawks’ investigation into the alleged “rogue spy unit”.

The key part of Gordhan’s statement was this: “The letter from the Hawks is an attempt by some individuals who have no interest in South Africa, its future, its economic prospects and the welfare of its people. If necessary, I will take appropriate legal action to protect myself and the National Treasury from whatever elements seeking to discredit me, the institution and its integrity.” ?

Zuma’s latest statement on the matter sought to give assurance that Gordhan’s position was not in jeopardy. “The media has incorrectly reported, among other things, that there is a war at SARS and that the President and the Minister of Finance are somehow at war. This is a total fabrication and mischievous sensationalism.”

The president’s office also said a process was underway to deal with the “difficulty” in the relationship between Gordhan and Moyane “through the correct channels using the correct legal prescripts”.

“The President began discussions with Minister Gordhan and Mr Moyane on this matter long before the State of the Nation Address and Budget 2016. Measures are being put in place to address the issues responsibly and amicably, for the benefit of all,” the presidency said.

If these processes are underway, why are Gordhan and Moyane still locked in battle? And if this process is effective, why did the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe feel the need to speak out publicly in defence of Gordhan?

The question is: Does the ANC trust Zuma?

If this intervention by the president were indeed underway, surely Mantashe would know about it? And if Zuma was mediating between Gordhan and Moyane, why was the SARS commissioner not sitting alongside the minister at the pre-Budget media briefing? Why was Gordhan warning as late as Friday that he is prepared to take legal action to protect himself and the Treasury?

From whom exactly?

Like with Zuma’s explanation about the reason he removed Nene as finance minister, apparently to nominate him to be head of the BRICS bank, nobody can seriously believe that the reports about Gordhan and the Treasury being under pressure from shadowy forces are “a total fabrication and mischievous sensationalism”. The president has made many claims during his presidency including that he had no knowledge of the security upgrades at Nkandla, that he did not know why the Gupta’s jet landed at Waterkloof air force base and that he has no knowledge of his family’s business interests.

While there was a refusal by the ANC to confront the mountain of scandals piling up in front of the Zuma presidency up to now, there are signs of a revolt brewing. Hard questions are being asked by ANC and alliance leaders behind closed doors and sometimes publicly. Party members are not as willing as they were previously to throw themselves into the line of fire to protect Zuma.

The ANC realises that Zuma is a liability; it just does not know what to do about it.

What it will not do, however, is fold and side with the opposition in a parliamentary debate against its own leader. This is what the DA has missed when it decided to go ahead with its motion of no confidence debate in Parliament. Maimane and his colleagues genuinely believed that they had a shot at winning the vote if they excluded ministers and deputy ministers and had a secret ballot. It was a spectacular miscalculation on the part of the DA and shows that they have no other strategy than to keep attempting to convince ANC members to vote with them.

Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said during the debate: “The ANC has confidence in President Jacob Zuma. You can shout from the top of your voices but you can’t change that.” Other ANC speakers spoke about Zuma’s contribution to the liberation struggle and the ANC’s history. There was little else they could say to defend the president.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) sat out the no-confidence debate and did not vote on the motion because they knew it was a foolhardy exercise. They know that another major tipping point is coming when the Constitutional Court rules on the Nkandla matter and this could provide the basis for impeachment.

It is clear that sentiment against the president is changing in the ANC and more and more people are becoming concerned about his conduct and leadership failures. Mantashe has opened a door for others in the ANC to walk through. The ANC is coming to a crossroads but any outside attempt to force them to choose a path will backfire.

The ground is starting to shake under Zuma and by the number of statements he is issuing to explain himself, he is aware that he is not as secure politically as he was a year ago. He has to win back the confidence of the ANC and, after everything he has done to damage the party, that will not be easy.

The end of Zuma’s term as ANC president is already in sight at the party’s 54th national conference in December 2017. Between now and then, the ANC needs to rediscover it soul and find a way to manage Zuma’s exit from power – either speedily or gradually, with the risk of even more damage being done. DM

Photo: South African counterpart Jacob Zuma gestures as he departs at the airport after an Africa Union-sponsored dialogue in an attempt to end months of violence in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana.

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