South Africa

ANC after Sizani’s departure: The pressure cooker lid is off

By Stephen Grootes 5 March 2016

In the past, headlines trumpeting that the “ANC is in turmoil” have turned out to be less than true. Whatever it was said to be“convulsing” the party has often turned out to be something Luthuli House has found surmountable. But this week has been different. On Friday it emerged that ANC former Chief Whip, Stone Sizani, believed ANC MPs had always wanted President Jacob Zuma to pay back some of the money spent by government on Nkandla. Then the ANC caucus issued a statement saying that “The views do not represent those of the ANC Caucus.” This all after a week in which we were indeed 'convulsed' by the dispute between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane. It now appears as if the revolution, the ANC, is beginning to eat its own. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

It was the Mail & Guardian on Friday morning which reported that Sizani believes ANC MPs “always wanted President Jacob Zuma to repay a portion of the millions of Rands spent on security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, and had always supported the public protector, Thuli Mandonsela, in that regard”. Sizani appeared to go further, saying that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko’s report on Nkandla, which found Zuma had nothing to pay, was “irrelevant”.

Later, on the Midday Report, the former Chief Whip said he was not being inconsistent and that if you examined the reports that had been adopted by ANC Mps as well as the ad-hoc committee on Nkandla, you would see that “our reports are clear. That Cabinet must quantify what the Public Protector calls a reasonable amount. There’s no inconsistency in that, everybody is still saying exactly that”.

If that sounds like news to you, Dearly Beloved, it’s because it’s news to us too.

The course of this issue through Parliament was torturous. Deliberately so, we presume. But this is uncontested fact; it was ANC MPs who voted, over the objections of the opposition parties, to adopt Nhleko’s Nkandla report. That report goes through those famous South African installations – the firepool, the chicken run, the cattle culvert, the visitor’s centre – labelling these all as “security features”. It then it says this: “Accordingly, the State President is therefore not liable to pay for any of these security features.”

Don’t believe us? Then read it.

It’s right at the end. And the text is pretty clear. The President is not liable.

Right then, so how does Sizani marry the two concepts, what he says ANC MPs believe, and what they’ve actually voted to support? Well, some sock inhalation notwithstanding, we don’t know. It simply doesn’t make sense. There doesn’t appear to be any technical explanation that could somehow clear this up.

But that doesn’t really matter. What does is that Sizani says ANC MPs believe Zuma should pay back some of the money, while the ANC’s caucus says they don’t.

This suggests that Sizani’s departure from the position of ANC Chief Whip was far spicier than we’ve been led to believe. It seems to completely belie Gwede Mantashe’s explanation of the haste of his resignation that he was urgently needed at those famous three-month classes on how to be an ambassador (Alumni: Jon “Gay is not Okay” Qwelane, Bruce “Waterkloof” Koloane). It also shows that the blanket denial that this had anything to do with defending Zuma in public and in Parliament is probably not true.

In other words, Sizani’s resignation was probably driven by either his nausea at what his job had become, and what he had to do. Significantly, that means we then also have to ask, is the nausea limited to him only, or if in fact it is a contagious outbreak. Are other ANC MPs also getting sick and tired of being forced to defend the indefensible?

It is also worth noting one other line in the statement of the ANC caucus. It reads; “We therefore await the outcome of the Concourt, which we shall implement as a sound and authoritative constitutional guide on these matters”. That is surely a promise that whatever the Constitutional Court rules on this matter, ANC MPs will implement. It’s hard to know how far that promise goes, though. If judges say Zuma must repay some of the money, then they have to enforce that. But what if the judges ignore Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett’s advice that this “is a delicate time in a dangerous year” and also find Zuma deliberately broke his oath to “uphold the Constitution” by his refusal to properly implement the findings of the Public Protector?

Could that force them to impeach him? Probably not. In my opinion, they could be creating trouble for themselves by making this promise quite so strongly.

It seems impossible to disentangle all of this from the other big story this week, the one involving the dispute between Pravin Gordhan and Tom Moyane. That a fight as vicious as this has got this public this quickly raises questions about a lack of leadership. When two bulls fight, it’s up to another bigger bull to stop them.

Zuma has not done that. Perhaps, again deliberately. There is plenty of evidence that when Zuma doesn’t act, he is in fact, acting. It may sound a little like Donald Rumsfeld to say this, but perhaps it just suits him to let this dispute carry on, and to not act. But it can also have the consequence that he appears weak, that he’s not acting because he doesn’t know how to act, or in fact he can’t stop it.

Now perhaps, we’re getting to the heart of what is going on.

Up until November or so, the ANC was like a pressure cooker. Some frustration was building up, over issues like Nkandla, Zuma’s proximity to people like the Guptas, the firing of mining minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi and finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. Now, after his decision was reversed over the firing of Nene, the lid has been prized off, though not all the way; it’s still there, still providing pressure, but some of that bubbling and frustration is beginning to boil over. This means people are going to move around, factions will form, fight, disband and recreate. And, if and when the lid finally blows off, it’s going to become much harder to predict what will happen.

In short, the person at the top of the tree is weaker than he was. This means it is becoming safer to mobilise against him. But it also means it’s becoming more dangerous, because it’s so unpredictable.

Hold on everyone. The ride on this bus is getting bumpier and bumpier. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (Sapa)


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