South Africa

South Africa

This Way Out: Holomisa’s “exit strategy” for Jacob Zuma

During the debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA), one of the statements that stood out was United Democratic Movement Bantu Holomisa’s appeal to President Jacob Zuma to make a dignified departure from public office. As dissent against the president starts to build in the ANC and potentially explosive court rulings hang over his head, there has been some informal talk about how to contain the disaster-prone Zuma presidency. As the “recall” option used against former president Thabo Mbeki is not viable, Holomisa is proposing a way out that the ANC and the opposition could buy into, in the interests of the country. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

In 2008, President Jacob Zuma declared that he wanted to serve only one term as the country’s president. In an interview with Independent Newspapers, Zuma said the succession battle between him and Thabo Mbeki had provided some lessons. The two ways of managing succession in the ANC would be for a leader to openly indicate when he intended to step down and to avoid centralising power in the presidency, Zuma said then.

“I would prefer to leave after one term. Even if it is not one term, I think in the second term I should be able to begin the process of winding down. I would allow open debate, not make people guess what is going to happen in terms of succession.

“This would allow the organisation to indicate what it wants. But if it was me deciding, if the ANC had made me president of the country (I would prefer one term),” Zuma said in the interview.

Whatever happened to that plan, you might ask? Power happened. And the political, business and family network that congealed around the president was not prepared to surrender power and influence in 2014, when Zuma began his second term – without protest.

The one-term presidency was certainly the understanding amongst Zuma’s allies that backed his ascension to power – the leaders of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP). Only after Zuma took office did the group begin to splinter and their perspectives changed on the leadership question.

The ANCYL under Julius Malema was the first to turn against Zuma, then the faction in Cosatu led by the former general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. The SACP has also in the last few months realised that Zuma is a liability. Had Zuma done what he declared he wanted to do, manage succession, the coalition would probably not have fragmented in the way it did.

Zuma has made no further reference in recent years to previous intention to manage succession. He has not indicated “openly” or otherwise when he intends to step down, or initiated any real succession discussions in the ANC. As for his second great intention, to avoid centralising power in the presidency, the reason nobody can ask when he intends stepping down is precisely because power is so centralised around him after he crushed all forms of dissent.

It is not clear whether Zuma is aware of how much discontent and restlessness there is now in the ANC and the alliance about his leadership. Despite vowing not to repeat the mistakes of his former arch rival, Zuma, like Mbeki, has also surrounded himself with “yes men” who tell him what he wants to hear. Zuma, like Mbeki, might therefore be overestimating his support and popularity in the ANC.

Now someone has stepped forward, offering to lay out the facts and help manage a “dignified” exit from office for Zuma.

United Democratic Leader Bantu Holomisa first made the appeal in Parliament during the SONA debate. “Give us a mandate, Msholozi, to handle your exit with dignity,” Holomisa said.

This came a week after Zuma’s incredible summersault in the Constitutional Court, when he offered to pay back a percentage of the costs of the security upgrades at his Nkandla home, after fighting this for almost two years. The Constitutional Court case has made Zuma vulnerable to impeachment hearings, depending on whether the judges find that he breached his oath of office and acted in violation of the Constitution. Adding to Zuma’s legal woes is the prospect of criminal charges hanging over him again, with judgment in the Democratic Alliance’s spy tapes court challenge pending.

Zuma has also proved himself to be a poor leader by putting the country in economic peril by firing former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. He is now prolonging the economic instability of the country by not dealing decisively with the battle between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the commissioner of the South African Revenue Service Tom Moyane.

Sentiment has been turning against Zuma in the ANC and alliance structures over his steadfast relationship with the Gupta family, as well as the “premier league” faction that has been attempting to gain dominance in the ruling party. Under Zuma, the term “state capture” has become a catchphrase to describe how politically connected businesspeople have gained control of state organs and government processes to expand their empires.

The resignation of ANC chief whip in Parliament Stone Sizani last week is the latest sign of the party being unable to sustain the pressure and maintain support for Zuma. While the ANC caucus previously served as the storm troopers in Zuma’s defence brigade, MPs were noticeably subdued and cautious in recent weeks.

Holomisa believes the time is ripe to begin discussions for an exit plan for Zuma, to prevent further damage to the country. The ANC needed to make a decision that there should be a dignified exit from office for the president and they should then come to the opposition parties in Parliament to discuss the matter, Holomisa told Daily Maverick.

“His election is Parliament was endorsed by all of us, whichever way we voted. In a way, we are all responsible. So now we must find a way out,” Holomisa said.

The UDM leader was formerly extremely popular in the ANC before his expulsion in the mid 1990s. He remained close to former president Nelson Mandela, who trusted him to handle some of his personal and family affairs. He has also been an advisor to the Mandela family after the elder statesman’s death. It is well known that Mandela had wanted Holomisa to return to the ANC but he has resisted doing so.

Holomisa now hopes to broker a deal that would see the ANC and opposition parties agree on the terms for Zuma to leave office. At the age of 32, then General Holomisa forced the resignation of the Prime Minister of the former Transkei homeland George Matanzima and overthrew his successor Stella Sigcau in 1987. He hopes to employ a less forceful method of removing a sitting leader this time.

“My main worry is to avoid a situation where this degenerates into an ethnic war. We know how the campaign of Polokwane was laced with a lot of ethnic tendencies, such as “100% Zulu boy”. We don’t need to go through that route again.” Holomisa is referring to campaign paraphernalia distributed by some Zuma supporters ahead of the ANC’s 52nd national conference in Polokwane to drum up support for his election as president.

He said the ANC should also not act they did with Mbeki when they recalled him from office. “We must avoid what happened by Mbeki when he was called in the middle of the night. We must say thank you to Mbeki that he didn’t challenge the decision. I am not sure Zuma and his henchmen would behave the same way,” Holomisa said.

The “recall” option would in any event not work as the ANC national executive committee (NEC), which has the power to take such a decision, is weighted with people loyal to Zuma and reliant on him for their positions.

“There is no doubt that he is a liability to the country. The mistakes he committed are well documented,” Holomisa said.

He did not want to expand on what the exit strategy should entail, saying these should be negotiated, including what presidential privileges Zuma would be entitled to once he left office. Asked how this process should be initiated, Holomisa said the option would only work if Zuma opened the discussion himself.

“This is why I said to him in Parliament ‘Nxamalala please give us a mandate to discuss your exit strategy with dignity’. It must be him that says to NWC (national working committee), NEC or people close to him ‘I don’t want to be accused of messing up the country and organisation. Can this matter be discussed and we come up with solutions’? It has to be him,” Holomisa said. He said if the matter was initiated by someone else in the ANC, they could be accused of acting on behalf of a faction.

Holomisa said ideally Zuma should raise the matter in the alliance even before the Constitutional Court judgment is delivered. An impeachment process might have a number of implications that could be avoided, he said.

“It is better for him to own and manage the crisis. It is better for ANC to be proactive. They are the custodians as their term only ends in 2019. They need to put the interests of the country first. But if they still believe in their philosophy that the ANC its leaders come first, it will not work,” Holomisa said.

“This is not about political point scoring. It is about all of us acting in the interests of our country,” Holomisa said. “Zuma is the common denominator in all the problems we have. He must go.”

The option still requires some brave men and women in the ANC and the alliance to speak up and for Zuma to concede that his leadership has failed the country. Until that happens, South Africa will continue on the downward spiral with more uncertainty and another messy ANC succession battle ready to explode in the next few months. DM

Photo: South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma (L) jokes with opposition United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa (R) after a signing ceremony committing parties to the electoral code of conduct in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, South Africa, 11 March 2009. EPA/JON HRUSA,