South Africa

Analysis: The math is complicated ahead of a crucial NEC meeting

By Stephen Grootes 24 May 2017

The situation in the ANC is now so complex and turbulent that it is obviously impossible to make big and bold predictions. Who, two months ago, could have foreseen ANC MP Pravin Gordhan playing the role of chief inquisitor to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown? This weekend, ahead of the first ANC national executive committee since the reshuffle that released so much of this turbulence, there will be much speculation about whether ANC leaders will in fact vote President Jacob Zuma out of the SA presidency. While it is intriguing to speculate about all the possible outcomes, it is still important to remember one thing: the only analysis that matters is the analysis performed by the people in the NEC – who have previously always backed Zuma. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The context around this NEC meeting is simply unprecedented. Three members of the ANC’s top six national leaders have criticised President Jacob Zuma for the way in which he conducted his Cabinet reshuffle. The SACP has demanded that he resign. Cosatu has said he must go and this week refused him permission to address any further Cosatu events. The South African Council of Churches has released a report it says shows we are, because of Zuma’s (mis)rule, on the brink of becoming a “Mafia state”. And the gulf between Zuma as president and the ANC as Luthuli House has become more and more evident, particularly through the reappointment of Brian Molefe to Megawatt Park.

As someone who is not a member of the ANC’s NEC, it is easy to look at this context and ask the question, how could Zuma possibly survive. Particularly when you ponder what long-term damage this must be doing to the ANC, and especially the impact it could all have on the elections in 2019. But the only calculation that matters is within the NEC itself. And that leads us to the context there.

In November last year now ANC MP Derek Hanekom (he’s also the former Minister of Tourism and, perhaps more important, the current chair of the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee), proposed a motion that Zuma be recalled from the SA presidency. From what we know about that meeting, the motion was never put to a vote. So then, this further boils down the final question we have to ask: have the minds and the calculations of those who supported Zuma in November changed in any way?

If they have not, then Zuma is safe.

If they have changed, then something rather different and remarkable could happen.

Again, it is easy at this juncture to point to principle, and suggest that Zuma has now broken so many rules, allowed and provoked so much corruption to take place, that he has crossed some sort of invisible do-not-cross-or-you-are-out line; that the removal of Gordhan as Finance Minister in particular was a madly reckless political move that should kill any politician, even the one named Zuma. But look at realpolitik’s cold heart and we must feel that it could be a false equation. For it has surely been known to everyone in the NEC for many years now that Zuma was corrupt, that he was taking the ANC, and South Africa, in a badly wrong direction. The November NEC meeting was taking place after the Constitutional Court’s Nkandla ruling, the court decision on reinstatement of the criminal charges against Zuma and the publication of the Public Protector’s State of Capture report which clearly pointed to the Gupta family as puppetmasters. If you were an NEC member and happy to put up with that set of disqualifying issues then, what would be different now?

In reality, as it so often does with politicians everywhere, the self-interest will do the voting.

It has been said before at this specific IP address that, often in politics, it is not the direction you are going in that is important, but the time at which you jump. So many people in the ANC’s NEC were happy to go along with Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS quackery. Many thousands died as a result. And yet those same people then caught the Zuma Tsunami into the Polokwane Pier. The same calculation could happen here, if NEC members believe that the tsunami is pulling out, and they don’t want to be stranded as a result, then they will jump.

This too can be boiled down to their prediction of what will happen later this year. If an NEC member believes that Zuma – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – is going to prevail in December, then it would be foolish in the extreme for them to vote against her former husband now. But if they think Cyril Ramaphosa will win, then it would make sense to jump.

That said, it may not be entirely enough. You may belong to the NEC, believe that a Zuma is going to win in December, but feel it in your bones that the ANC is going to lose the 2019 elections. And as a result, in the long term you are going to lose either your ministerial perks, or the only career you’ve ever known as a Member of Parliament. In that case, the calculation may be more complicated. You may feel that you need to keep your place on the train for as long as the gravy will flow, and save and invest like mad while you can. It is possible that some people could look to the eye of history and wonder how it will gaze upon them. But if that were the case, they would already have backed Zuma for so long that that ship has probably sailed.

It is also possible, in some cases, that certain members of the NEC fear Zuma. He may have a neat list of their own smallanyana skeletons, while they cannot prove anything against him. Even if they were acting on his verbal instruction, it would be their signature on the document that will prevail in court, rather than their memory of a hurried telephone conversation, or a word in passing, or a wink and nudge. Aligned to this is the fact that Zuma still appears to have a strong grasp on the intelligence gathering apparatus of the state. In other words, he may have plenty of good information that could be useful to him, but disastrous to some NEC members.

That said, it is easy to overplay this angle. There is a tendency to believe people are only going a certain way because of a “hold” that Zuma has over them. But it is surely easier to believe the simpler explanation that many people in the NEC simply still support Zuma out of their own free will, and because they always have.

There is one other major hurdle those opposing Zuma would have to cross. Decisions in the NEC are not generally supposed to be made by a simple vote, it is not a “50 plus one” system. Instead, technically speaking, decisions are supposed to be made by consensus. In practice, that probably means you would need an overwhelming majority to prevail, particularly in a decision as crucial as this.

All of that said, two things have changed fundamentally since the last NEC meeting to discuss this issue in November. It is surely true that the ANC’s standing in society has sunk lower than it was then, mainly because of Zuma and his conduct. And it is surely also true that Zuma’s standing within the ANC has sunk lower as well. But even that may not be enough, in the cold-hearted political calculation that will now be under way, to lead to any real change. DM

The original photo of President Jacob Zuma by Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick.



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