As President Jacob Zuma’s grip on power weakened and the unthinkable happened – his State of the Nation Address that his loyalists swore would happen on Thursday was postponed – old conspiracy theories against Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were aired. Rumours started circling that it was actually he who is in the firing line. Then, shortly afterwards, Ramaphosa in turn postponed a special national executive committee meeting after “fruitful and constructive” discussions with Zuma. Could this be it? By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
NB: The South African presidential transition is a continuously unfolding story. See Daily Maverick homepage for the latest developments and analysis.
President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, have been spending more face time with each other than actually governing the country in recent times.
Late on Tuesday night, an “urgent notice” was sent via WhatsApp to national executive committee members who were in Cape Town for a short-notice meeting on Wednesday, that this meeting, called by the national working committee after an unexpected meeting on Monday, had been postponed for another 10 days to the originally scheduled time of 17 and 18 February.
This was “by the directive of the ANC President Cde Cyril Ramaphosa” after “fruitful and constructive discussions” between Zuma and Ramaphosa on Tuesday night.
Knowing what it is that Ramaphosa wants, these discussions could point, perhaps, to a possible resignation speech by Zuma on Wednesday, in place of what could only have been an acrimonious national executive committee meeting. At least that’s what one source close to Zuma reckoned would be happening.
Earlier, broadcasters were told to get their outside broadcast vans in line at Cape Town’s stately Mount Nelson Hotel early on Wednesday morning for a briefing.
Or maybe the postponement of the NEC meeting was just an opportunity for Zuma to regroup. After the notice of the NEC postponement came a fake news release that Zuma would be hosting Russian president Vladimir Putin at his official residence in Pretoria from 8 to 11 February – exactly the time that the State of the Nation Address has been scheduled for, indicating that this would have been scheduled at the last minute and indicating that Zuma would not be resigning on Wednesday after all.
Such is the confusion at the moment, and the feeling that anything could happen, that eNCA reported this as fact before apologising for reporting this fake news.
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who was part of the Tuesday night meeting between the party and state president – which lasted “quite a while” – did not want to reveal anything in an interview with eNCA late on Tuesday night.
When asked by presenter Vuyo Mvuko if Zuma had agreed to step down, Magashule, characteristically, said next to nothing – only that the NEC meeting and the State of the Nation Address had been postponed on Tuesday “to give us further chance to talk”.
Earlier on Tuesday afternoon came the news that Parliament’s presiding officers had decided to postpone the SONA, with another statement following saying the postponement was on the insistence of the troubled president himself. The ANC – rather than the opposition – has to appear to be in control.
Only on Sunday night, Zuma, according to a News24 report, explained to the Top Six leadership of the ANC that he couldn’t go, because “the people still love him” and the party needed him for its elections campaign. It was then that the NWC was scheduled.
What the report didn’t say was that Zuma could be planning to turn the tables on his deputy, Ramaphosa, and fire him before Zuma himself steps down, to prevent Ramaphosa from automatically moving into the position of acting president.
Zuma could appoint Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in Ramaphosa’s place (she’s a Member of Parliament and it’s therefore possible), and she would then become acting president should Zuma step down.
This would, however, take a few days to effect. If it were as simple as everyone believed it would be – Zuma stepping down and allowing Ramaphosa to act – the SONA could still have gone ahead on Thursday with Ramaphosa delivering it as acting president. It’s no big deal, bar for disruptions by, say, the Economic Freedom Fighters about, say, Ramaphosa’s involvement in the Marikana issue.
These disruptions would still be smaller than if Zuma delivered the speech.
There was also the matter of conspiracy theories. On Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the SONA postponement, came a press release by a group calling itself “cadres of the African National Congress and ex-combatants of uMkhonto weSizwe the revolutionary People’s Army”, apparently not with the blessing of the ANC’s official MK Military Veterans’ Association.
Zuma’s supporters have, of late, not really cared to organise within party structures anyway, as this would subject them to party discipline.
Dissident lone wolves are, however, potentially less predictable and more dangerous.
The group wanted Magashule to “address” what it called “revelations” by convicted robber and self-confessed gangster Gayton McKenzie in his book, Kill Zuma by all means necessary – “Let’s kill Zuma by all means” – against Ramaphosa.
They say Ramaphosa’s leadership was suspect because (they say) he joined the ANC only in 1991 and, as secretary-general at the time, tabled a motion to remove Thabo Mbeki as chief negotiator at Codesa and to remove Zuma as head of intelligence. Both were “senior and long-serving members”, they said.
They also asked questions about an alleged attempt to poison Zuma and about Ramaphosa’s involvement in the gunning down by police of close to three dozen miners at Marikana.
Everyone knows Zuma loves a good conspiracy theory – former finance minister Pravin Gordhan lost his job on the back of a fabricated intelligence report – so when the SA Communist Party on Tuesday evening alleged that Zuma was preparing to fire Ramaphosa, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Or did the SACP misread the meeting between the two presidents as a sacking in motion?
As is the nature of things at the moment, the few in the ANC who do know what’s going on are reluctant to talk.
The SACP’s Alex Mashilo framed the press release carefully. The spokesperson said the party “condemns ethnic mobilisation, [and] challenges President Zuma to deny or confirm emerging information that, in pursuit of private interests, he is preparing to fire Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa”.
The party also condemned the Amabutho (Zulu regiments) that Zuma has apparently been using (they were the ones threatening to march on Luthuli House on Monday, and also had a pro-Zuma march at the beginning of January when Zuma got some airtime as the recipient of the memorandum.
“The Constitution of our country required the President to unite, and not to divide, our nation. President Zuma’s conduct is reckless and unacceptable,” Mashilo’s statement said.
They also said Zuma should, “as a matter of urgency”, confirm or deny that he was planning to fire Ramaphosa.
Zuma’s office promptly responded that the allegations were “completely baseless”, but didn’t actually deny them.
“The allegations reported in the media that President Jacob Zuma wishes to fire Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and replace him with Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma are preposterous and outrageous,” the statement by spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga read.
“The allegations of ethnic mobilisation by the President are equally without foundation.”
The 100% Zulu Boy? Perhaps it would have been easier to believe the Presidency if it had left out this last sentence.
Dlamini Zuma was perceived to have been Zuma’s preferred candidate at the ANC’s conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre last year, and there are some who believe she would help protect him from prosecution on the corruption charges set to be reinstituted against him.
There was also an unannounced press conference by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte earlier in the day, where she announced to a select group of journalists that former ANC MP Pule Mabe, who rooted for Dlamini Zuma last year, was the new spokesperson at their service.
Mabe promptly had a baptism of fire with the drama that erupted a few hours later.
Whatever is going on in the ANC right now, it’s a process that is being handled delicately and that could take more time than anti-Zuma South Africans have patience for. DM
Photo: Outgoing ANC President, Jacob Zuma seen during a walk at the 54th ANC National Conference held at the NASREC Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 December 2017. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK
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