You've been Rick Astleyed!
15 December 2017 06:25 (South Africa)
Politics

Analysis: Should Zuma lose, the dominoes would fall

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics
Photo: President Jacob Zuma gestures during his question and answer session in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The end of the Zuma era has been predicted almost as often as the end of the ANC. To date, none of those predictions has been accurate. But we are getting to the stage where it is worth examining what would happen if Zuma were actually to fall, which could even happen by the time you get around to finding the time to read this article. To an extent, the analysis will illustrate why it has been so difficult for his foes to unseat him. But, with his protection now possibly limited to only the (shrinking) parts of the National Executive Committee and the provincial leaders, his political power is heavily boundaried. And those boundaries are getting closer by the day. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

As always in politics, the question to ask if or when someone leaves office is this: who will replace them? Often the answer to that question is what kept someone in office for so long. The ANC would be no different. If Zuma were to leave the position of the South African President, those who back Cyril Ramaphosa would immediately argue that it would make sense for him to just take over now. They will say that he has been groomed, that he is ready, that constitutionally it should be him.

Of course, that argument doesn’t really hold much water. Constitutionally, the deputy president of the country doesn’t hold any special office, he has only the powers and duties assigned to him by the state president. Ramaphosa also has much less Cabinet experience than many other ministers. If experience is the criterion, then Jeff Radebe would be the man, the final minister still in Cabinet appointed by Nelson Mandela.

In the end, the “experience” argument doesn’t matter, it is the politics that matters.

That said, backers of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would find themselves in a more difficult position. Their candidate, while more experienced, isn’t even an MP, and would face strong criticism for leaving Addis Ababa in haste. They might well argue that Ramaphosa should not take over now, that the precedent set in 2008 should be followed, that a caretaker leader be appointed. If they made this argument, it would be a sure sign that they are in a weaker position; it would be an admission of their problems.

This means that the real question of who will take over is likely to be decided by the balance of power between those backing Ramaphosa and those backing Dlamini-Zuma. If Ramaphosa has enough backing, then it could be him; if not, some form of caretaker. Of course, it is technically possible for it to be Dlamini-Zuma, but that would mean the end of Ramaphosa’s political career, so his backers would fight very hard over this issue.

There may also be some voices that would call for an early national election; they would say that if the president has been removed, then the best way to resolve the crisis would be to go back to the people. But all parts of the ANC would surely be united in their opposition to that suggestion. Because if this were to happen the ANC would be so disorganised that it would be at serious risk of losing that election. Particularly so soon after it did so badly in the local elections, and while the DA is looking like the political equivalent of Switzerland.

Were Zuma’s national career to end so suddenly, what is fairly certain is that several other careers would end as immediately. Mosebenzi Zwane would be lucky to be allowed back into the Free State, Des van Rooyen lucky to keep his seat as an MP. They would not be alone. People like Nkosinathi Nhleko, David Mahlobo, Faith Muthambi and Bathabile Dlamini would surely find a need to get their CVs out. All of them have behaved disgracefully in defence of Zuma, while Van Rooyen and Zwane have appeared to have other clients who are only in the political business through him.

One of the major differences between the situation in this case, and the situation when Thabo Mbeki was defenestrated, is the depth of the president’s tentacles. Back then, several Cabinet ministers resigned, and some agreed to be reappointed. But here, the depth of Zuma’s control extends also to state-owned enterprises and the entire security cluster. People like Dudu Myeni would lose their political protection overnight; Hlaudi Motsoeneng would surely find that without Zuma’s support, performing miracles would become impossible.

And of course, Advocate Shaun Abrahams and Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza would probably be well advised to head for Lesotho or Swaziland as fast as they could.

This means that the instability such an event would bring would be greater than it was in 2008.

There would be many people who would look at these scenarios and say this shows that to remove Zuma now, no matter what the circumstances, would be disastrous. That this in itself, to some, is the strongest argument for why Zuma should stay.

But consider the situation. The real question for those involved in making such a decision is not so much about what is best for the ANC, or even for the country. The real question is what gives the party the strongest chance of retaining power in 2019. Surely, considering all the evidence that we have seen, the fact that the party lost three metros and much support in rural areas in these last polls means that the ANC’s best chance of retaining power is to get rid of Zuma now. The longer he stays, it seems, the worse the ANC’s chances are.

If the ANC were to remove Zuma, the party would see voters coming back to it in droves. Even if the person who replaces him is his ex-wife, the ANC would still get a significant bump. The sheer awfulness of Zuma, Nkandla, the State of Capture report, the corruption charges, the impression that he governs only for himself and his business partners, all of these things would miraculously unstick from the ANC’s image. The party would remove his brand from its brand, and voters would respond accordingly. Particularly if it were able to craft a narrative around how it has now “self-corrected”.

On the ground, there is also a very real possibility that branches would become active again. An internal ANC report has already shown that most of the party’s branches and regions want Zuma, and the entire NEC, to resign. Which shows that this action is being blocked purely by the provincial leaders and the NEC. These branches and regions could suddenly see a re-awakening of interest, people who’ve let their membership lapse may rejoin, others who are members in card only may take more interest. Just this, in itself, may lead to a much better election result for the ANC, as there would be more volunteers available for campaigning.

There would also be several significant trends that would be stopped in their tracks were Zuma to go now. The increasing securitisation of the state may come to an end, the attacks on judges could end, the nonsensical blaming of the media for the party’s woes could stop. Another dynamic that could also slow down at least would be the deepening rural/urban divide in the party, as Zuma has appeared to push hard on that particular dynamic.

Unfortunately, it is not so certain that the rising tide of corruption would stop. It would be much easier to fight corruption without a president who faces such a strong case against him. But there is a culture of corruption that has taken hold that makes it difficult to stop. On balance, it would depend on who takes over, and on their own political will, and political ability.

But, consider the position of the person taking over. They would have a constitutional duty to comply with Advocate Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action, to appoint a judicial inquiry into state capture, and to allow the Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, to appoint the judge to head it. There would be no better opportunity to remove Zuma’s supporters than such an inquiry. At a stroke, it could incapacitate their ability to cause trouble for the new person.

And this commission would offer another gift. It would allow the ANC to really reposition itself. It would be able to exert its pressure on government to make sure the inquiry is properly funded, that the best people are appointed as evidence leaders. While the dirty laundry that came out would be foul, it would be historical. The ANC would be able to say it’s changed, and point to the fact that the commission is even happening as proof of that. And of course, appropriate action would be taken against those found guilty of wrongdoing. Zuma himself would be battling legal fights on several fronts, without controlling the real levels of power. With a bit of luck and spin, it could be turned into an advantage for the party on the campaign trail.

Of course, many people may suggest that even discussing this question is wishful thinking. Perhaps. But. This weekend was the first time a motion aimed at removing Zuma was brought before the NEC. Other firsts could follow. And people in the ANC who argue in favour of retaining Zuma should ask themselves that question – what plans do they have for 2020? DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma gestures during his question and answer session in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Reader notice: Our comments service provider, Civil Comments, has stopped operating and will terminate services on 20th Dec 2017. As a result, we will be searching for another platform for our readers. We aim to have this done with the launch of our new site in early 2018 and apologise for the inconvenience.