South Africa

Leave at your own chosen speed: Zuma still at the crossroads, South Africa too

By Carien Du Plessis 8 February 2018

Getting President Jacob Zuma to go seems to require more patience than some South Africans can muster right now. Meanwhile, the Presidency is working hard to put out an image of business as usual, even during some very, very unusual times. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

One member of the executive who has been locked up in Cabinet committee meetings with President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, in the past couple of days, said they had fully expected Ramaphosa to take charge of things by Wednesday. He blames the media for this.

This is perhaps indicative, not so much of the amount of disinformation out there (there’s been some fake news reported as real), as of the level of uncertainty that exists about the future of Zuma even in the highest echelons of government. On government social media accounts, pictures of Zuma and Ramaphosa sitting next to each other in these meetings, in work mode, both grinning from ear to ear, were posted.

These images of government business as usual make it hard to believe insider talk of serious animosity between the two about the terms of Zuma’s departure, and about Zuma having some unspecified devastating dirt on Ramaphosa. These are apparently among the things holding up any voluntary stepping down from Zuma’s side, or any ruthless push from Ramaphosa side to get Zuma out.

Around the parliamentary precinct where the State of the Nation Address was due to take place on Thursday afternoon, security is still tight, even though the event had been called off by Parliament’s presiding officers on Tuesday.

There’s been some suggestion that, were Zuma to go ahead with the address, lives could have been lost in clashes between Economic Freedom Fighters’ supporters and militant backers of Zuma.

On Twitter on Wednesday EFF leader Julius Malema called for a national shutdown until Zuma was recalled.

Some around Parliament now say it’s possible that the State of the Nation Address will be skipped altogether this year, and replaced by Cabinet committee meetings, followed by the annual (and legally mandatory) Budget Speech later in February.

Some party hacks said that on the side of these Cabinet committee meetings talks between Zuma and Ramaphosa continued, with possible names being mentioned for the next cabinet. Former ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize was apparently spotted around Parliament on Wednesday, even though he isn’t a Member of Parliament, and is rumoured to be destined for a senior position in the economic cluster, such as minister of finance or public enterprises.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who was a key figure in the ANC’s underground Operation Vula in the 1980s, is said to have been mentioned as a possible future minister of state security.

There has also been talk of Zuma wanting former ANC presidential candidate and MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to play a key role in Cabinet, possibly as acting president or deputy president.

If the talks involve horse-trading about future Cabinet positions, then perhaps former tourism minister and ANC national working committee member Derek Hanekom’s tweet, urging South Africans to be patient, should be heeded at this point.

Heeding calls for him to say something, Ramaphosa put out a statement as ANC president on Wednesday, not saying much.

He said he wanted to “clarify” some matters around Zuma because there’s been “a lot of speculation and anxiety”.

On Tuesday night, he and Zuma had begun “direct discussions on the transition and matters relating to his position as the President of the Republic”. That much everyone knew.

The discussions were constructive and lay the basis for a speedy resolution of the matter in the interests of the country and its people.”

This is also why the NEC meeting, due on Wednesday, was postponed until next weekend, and Ramaphosa promised that he and Zuma would report back to the ANC and the country “in the coming days”.

The question most South Africans, including those in the party, are asking is when exactly these “coming days” would be.

Already Zuma’s office has issued a press release saying he would preside over the department of international relations’ Ubuntu Awards on Saturday. So possibly he would be president until then, or maybe Zuma’s just posturing.

Without saying as much, Ramaphosa gave an undertaking in his statement that Zuma would be removed as president, except he doesn’t really actually commit to that, and he doesn’t give a time frame.

He also said that despite SONA being postponed, “the work of government and Parliament will continue”.

Ramaphosa said the current process ensured “the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division”.

He also said “the interests and needs of the South African people are paramount”. With this Ramaphosa indicated that he was heeding the greater society which had, across political lines, been mobilising for Zuma to be removed due to the number of corruption allegations against him.

Even though SONA has been cancelled, the ANC is steaming ahead with its planned programme for the weekend. The party will be kicking off former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday year with a number of events, including a rally on 11 February, the date that marks Mandela’s release from prison 28 years ago.

These celebrations follow a defeat of sorts for the ANC leadership earlier in January, when they wanted to visit Mandela’s grave in Qunu in the Eastern Cape as part of the party’s birthday celebration programme, but were told by Mandela’s grandson and ANC MP Mandla Mandela that they had to perform certain cleansing ceremonies to gain permission from the ancestors to do so.

In Cape Town’s Adderley Street on Wednesday night, a huge campaign truck and an army of at least 20 election campaign pick-ups were parked and ready to bring people for the weekend celebrations.

There are said to be some divisions in the party’s top leadership which might make mobilising for the events and even affording the celebrations difficult. In a way, this weekend will be a test of sorts for the current ANC’s ability pull together and to get the votes it needs for the 2019 elections. DM

Photo: South African president Jacob Zuma reacts as he convenes the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC) meeting at Tuynhuis in Cape Town, South Africa, 14 November 2017. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

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