South Africa

ANC’s Operation Salvage Zuma: He ain’t heavy, he’s my president

By Ranjeni Munusamy 8 April 2016

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe should these days have his own toll-free helpline. Anybody inside or outside the ANC who is concerned or enraged about last week’s Constitutional Court that found President Jacob Zuma had violated the Constitution has been invited to go speak to Mantashe. What you should not be doing, apparently, is publicly calling for Zuma to step down, face disciplinary action or be recalled. Opposition parties, meanwhile, should be smiling all the way to the polling booth due to the impact of the Zuma demolition derby. But it remains to be seen whether the annihilation of the ANC’s image and reputation will actually be the opposition’s gain. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa has written to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete proposing that a disciplinary enquiry be instituted against President Jacob Zuma. Holomisa has proposed that the enquiry, made up of three retired judges, investigate:

  • whether the President has not misled the National Assembly with regard to his pronouncement on the security upgrades in his private homestead as well as the report of the Public Protector; and
  • the gravity and seriousness of the conduct of the President as determined by Constitutional Court on the 31st of March 2016, and in line with section 89 (1) of the Constitution.

Holomisa proposed that the enquiry be chaired by judges because the National Assembly, which was a respondent in the Constitutional Court case and found to have acted unlawfully on the Public Protector’s Nkandla report, was conflicted. His proposal opens another course of action against Zuma, pointing Parliament to another area where the president could be held accountable – beyond the Constitutional Court ruling.

“The President has on numerous occasions, and with regard to the report of the Public Protector and the security upgrades at his private homestead, made statements in the National Assembly, which were not accurate and may be bordering on perjury. To date, the nation has not seen, the size and colour of a piece of paper purporting to be a bond that the President told the National Assembly funded his private home. Access to this document was never granted to the Public Protector as reported,” Holomisa said.

Strategically, the proposal for an enquiry should have been made before the ill-fated impeachment motion in the National Assembly earlier this week. It would probably have had to be framed differently, calling instead for a proper interrogation of the Constitutional Court judgment and its implications. Had all the opposition parties backed this call, it would have placed Mbete in a difficult position not to allow a proper processing of the judgment.

With the ANC’s new chief whip Jackson Mthembu indicating that he wanted to ensure more co-operation in Parliament, this process could have been negotiated. It would have made sense for the impeachment debate to follow the enquiry rather than being the point of departure. However, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) bolting ahead with the impeachment motion, the opposition’s trump card has already been played. DA MPs have been adamant that pursing impeachment as a starting point was correct as they had to act in defence of the Constitution.

The DA has now embarked on a name and shame campaign to identify ANC ministers and MPs who voted against their impeachment motion. There have also been circulating a mock ANC advertisement bearing the image of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa that states “I chose to put Zuma first; Constitution comes last”. The DA has now produced a voter registration advertisement, campaigning on the outcome of the Constitutional Court judgment and impeachment vote:

The ANC seems not to be bothered much by the DA’s manoeuvres, if they have noticed them at all. Save for Mthembu’s office dismissing the DA’s complaint against ANC MPs and the Speaker to Parliament’s ethics committee, the ANC has had its hands full with a bombardment of calls for Zuma to step down or face disciplinary action from within party structures, former leaders and veterans, civil society and prominent South Africans.

The ANC has never been more willing to “engage” than it has in the past few weeks, throwing open its doors first to members who have information about the influence of the Gupta family and now anyone who has concerns about Zuma’s violation of the Constitution. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said after Monday’s extended national working committee (NWC) meeting that the party would be going to its grass roots structures to communicate its position on the Constitutional Court judgment. But since last week, there has been a groundswell of outrage about Zuma’s actions and the ANC’s attempts to protect him.

Ironically, while the ANC is trying to prevent any action against Zuma for breaching the Constitution, it is threatening action against ANC leaders and members who speak out against the president. Mantashe said those who insult Zuma would “pay the price”. Prominent ANC stalwarts such as Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Mavuso Msimang, Cheryl Carolus and Trevor Manuel are part of a growing chorus of voices speaking out against the president.

Earlier this week, Gauteng ANC deputy chairperson and Premier David Makhura said the country was more important than loyalty to the ANC. Speaking to Radio 702, Mantashe said ANC leaders should not be speaking negatively about the party in public. “Whether it is Makhura or it is the veterans or a branch in the inner city, if they talk about the party in public negatively, the public will remember that. ANC members, we must debate these issues and engage society but if they choose to take public platforms and look good by insulting the president, they’ll pay the price obviously.”

The branch Mantashe was referring to is the ANC’s Sefako Makgatho branch in Johannesburg that called for the party’s national executive committee to ask Zuma to resign as both ANC president and president of the country. The branch suggested that Ramaphosa act in Zuma’s place until the next ANC elective conference in December 2017.

At a meeting of the ANC’s Lilliesleaf Farm branch on Wednesday evening, there were also calls for Zuma to step down or be recalled. Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau, who is a member of the branch, confirmed to eNCA that the branch wanted Zuma to face internal disciplinary procedures. “We can’t pretend we don’t know people are concerned. In fact we ourselves as members of ANC are concerned,” Tau told the channel.

The pressure is growing on the ANC to contain the fallout. With its position on the judgment already determined by its top six officials and the extended NWC, which was to accept Zuma’s half-baked apology, party members are losing faith in the leaderships ability to respond adequately to the image and reputational damage. There are also worries in lower structures of the ANC that they likely to lose council seats across the country in the August local government elections because of negative perceptions of the party.

The ANC leadership appears to believe that the election campaign would not be affected and the Zuma crisis will blow over without any action having to be taken against the president. Mantashe insists concerns should be transmitted internally and not publicly, claiming that people could not make assumptions about how the ANC would respond without talking to the party first.

But the ANC is clearly battling to get its leaders to toe the line and keep the narrative to accept Zuma’s apology and move on. Mthembu said in an interview on Radio 702 that ANC leaders would be armed with a memorandum to help them. “We are even preparing speakers notes for all our leaders so that we speak from the same page,” he said.

With mobilisation against the president from civil society and campaigns targeting the ANC from opposition parties, the big test will be whether ANC voters will abandon the party as a result of the Zuma crisis. While previous turmoil and battles in the ANC has seen breakaways from the UDM, Congress of the People and the Economic Freedom Fighters, the ANC has been able to poll over 60% in all the elections. The ANC’s core constituencies have remained loyal to the party up to now.

Prominent former ANC leaders, veterans, commanders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, children who grew up in exile and the foundations of the ANC’s legends Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada have all expressed concerns about Zuma and the ANC, but none have aligned themselves to any of the opposition parties. While the opposition parties should be gaining from the fallout, none of them have received any endorsement or support from those turning away from the ANC. It therefore remains to be seen whether ordinary members of the ANC will behave differently and change their votes or stay away from the polls.

There has never been a time in the democratic era when South Africa’s political leaders have had to step up and prove their mettle as they do now. With a highly competitive election in four months and the ANC devouring itself, both the ruling party and opposition leaders have to produce strategies to target the hearts and minds of voters.

Jacob Zuma appears to be the biggest conversation point of the 2016 election campaign, weighing down his party and providing opposition parties with ammunition to fire at the ANC. But on 3 August, will South Africa’s voters make their mark with him in mind? And if ANC voters do change their vote, who will benefit the most? DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)

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