The ANC top party officials spent two hours in a meeting with President Jacob Zuma at his Mahlamba Ndlopfu residence in Pretoria on Sunday night. The official line beforehand was that this was to advance the interests of “our people” and the country. After the meeting adjourned, it was reported that the NWC had been summoned to a meeting at Luthuli House on Monday. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
Even as the ANC’s conference kicked off at the Nasrec Expo Centre in December, the big question was: who will be the one delivering the State of the Nation Address on Thursday, 10 February? The answer from delegates, whether they were planning to vote for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa or not, was: “We don’t know, but it’s likely to be President Jacob Zuma.”
Nobody was certain of how long he was likely to last after the pomp and ceremony of the opening of Parliament. His backers said he was willing to step down regardless of whether his apparent first choice, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, became president or not.
It’s been a long road. There’ve been a number of attempts to oust him in the past couple of years, with the secret vote of no confidence in Parliament in August being his closest shave.
Ever since Ramaphosa’s win in December, by an uncomfortably narrow margin, and with an uncomfortably even mix of the two camps on the Top Six and the national executive committee, each meeting of ANC leaders has been watched closely.
The consensus seems to be that Zuma must go. The question is, should it be before or after the State of the Nation Address, or well before the ANC kicks off its next year’s general elections campaign?
There are some who feel there is no way the ANC could win the elections with Zuma at the helm, but the reality is that even with Ramaphosa firmly in the seat and on the poster, the ANC needs to be united to campaign for a win. Take, for instance, its inability for the past decade or so to win back Cape Town and the Western Cape from the opposition (even though the province isn’t a traditional stronghold, the party’s history of divisions there has made it difficult to increase its vote), or its loss in the Nqutu by-election in KwaZulu-Natal last year. Even though the party brought in some top leaders to woo voters there, divisions meant someone like Ramaphosa arrived in town to find he had no access to campaign opportunities.
Before the meeting at the presidential gueshouse on Sunday night, Ramaphosa was expected to recuse himself because, as the natural presidential successor, he’s considered to have a direct interest in Zuma stepping down. At the time of writing this report, there were confusing reports about whether he turned up.
After the meeting – which began at 20:00 and ended about 22:00 – News24 reported that “in the strongest indication yet that President Jacob Zuma won’t voluntarily step down as head of state”, ,the 20 members of the party’s National Working Committee have been summoned to a meeting at Luthuli House on Monday afternoon.
Ahead of the meeting, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe tweeted: “We are going to have a discussion with President #Zuma on what is in the best interests of the ANC & the country #ANCPilgrimage”.
There have also been the marches by Zuma loyalists. A “Hands off Zuma” march to the party’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg is planned for Monday by the Black First Land First group, and there has been talk of a counter-march by Ramaphosa supporters – certainly far from the show of unity party leaders sold the Nasrec conference to be.
It could even go as far as a split, some say.
In the run-up to the conference, when it became clear that Ramaphosa had a fighting chance, analysts and party leaders feared that Zuma’s hot-headed supporters in KwaZulu-Natal could make life difficult for them. It’s also the party’s biggest province, and one where it wouldn’t want to lose the valuable election gains it made during the past decade of Zuma’s reign. There is a strong opposition vote traditionally in the IFP, and the DA is set to be stepping out its campaign too with the recent appointment of the youthful and bright Mbali Ntuli to its campaign office.
Party leaders who want to see Zuma go have dubbed this time the “transition”, reminiscent of the 1994 transition from apartheid to democracy. At the time the aim was to avoid a civil war and convince those who were in power that it was in the best interest of the country to cede it. It was also about growing the faltering economy, and about keeping investors on board. Sound familiar? Oh, and Ramaphosa was one of the leaders at the centre of the 1994 transition.
He has so far attempted to tread around the latest “transition” firmly, but gently.
“We are going to do everything we can to handle everything in our movement carefully, delicately, responsibly, with the view of advancing the interest of our people. And we will not be doing so to advance the interest of any individuals, be it myself or anyone. We will only serve one thing: to advance the interest of South Africa because that is who we serve,” he said according to eNCA after a meeting between the ANC’s top leaders and the VhaVenda king and other traditional leaders on Saturday.
Opposition parties have been impatient, though, and jointly called for SONA to be postponed to allow for another vote of no confidence. With Zuma out of power in the ANC, and with a caucus divided in the middle and led by Ramaphosa loyalist, chief whip Jackson Mthembu, this one is very likely to succeed.
There are many in the ANC who say they want to see him go now, and they were hoping the Sunday meeting could spell his immediate recall. Most were in the dark about what the outcome would be, however.
Recent defiant pronouncements in favour of Zuma staying in power by the likes of party Secretary-General Ace Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, the only two still rooting for Zuma in the Top Six, have made the Ramaphosa camp impatient.
One of Ramaphosa’s hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, Bheki Cele, has hit back harshly at Magashule for intimating that the ANC would be restored to its rightful self (read: to Zuma loyalists) in five years’ time.
ANC deputy president DD Mabuza was, according to insiders, furious about Zuma’s unwillingness to go. Zuma is reportedly concerned about the prospect of facing renewed corruption charges, and those who have been propping him up also have a lot to lose.
A close aide to Zuma at the conference privately remarked that the president was tired, and, “if it depended on him, he would have been gone long ago”.
Mabuza, who ran his conference campaign based on party unity, was reportedly expected to lead the delegation to Mahlaba Ndlopfu on Sunday night to convey to Zuma the national working committee’s decision two weeks ago that he should step down.
Friends and some foes alike in the party have said that Zuma should be allowed to make the State of the Nation Address to say his goodbyes to the country in a dignified manner.
Speaker Baleka Mbete’s scheduling of the vote of no confidence requested by opposition parties for 22 February, the day after the Budget speech, seems to hint at some consensus on the party about this.
Opposition parties will, however, not let this slip so easily. They have been pushing for Zuma to go ever since his ascendancy to the Presidency and especially after the misspending of public money at Nkandla came to light a couple of years later. They will be capitalising on the awkwardness of Zuma delivering a speech that is supposed to set the pace of government’s business for the year. The disruptions in the House of the past few years would look like child’s play in comparison.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, who has been a leading figure in the opposition’s joint efforts against Zuma, said Zuma going before SONA did not have to mean that Parliament’s business would skip a beat. “Baleka would act and can delegate Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity of deputy president [to deliver Sona],” he said. “Or CR can act as president.”
A party strategist, however, reckons party unity was paramount. “Ramaphosa must stop listening to the hawks in his camp and must start leading. He must push the unity option even if it means upsetting his hawks, the media and business. If he wants to please all of them he may just preside over another ANC split and be remembered as the leader who lost 2019,” he said.
So the emphasis seems to be strongly on the party’s best interests, and there are many who would argue that a strong ANC – and not a coalition government of opposition parties – is needed for a developing country like South Africa to thrive.
The conundrum, however, is that the party’s interests and the country’s interests, in recent years and on the ANC’s own admission, have been increasingly out of sync. DM
Photo: Outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s elective conference in December 2017. Photo: Daily Maverick
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