South Africa

Analysis: Dear President Zuma, waiting’s just another word for nothing left to lose

By Stephen Grootes 9 February 2018

If you didn’t know that before the start of this week, you’re probably well aware of it now. Frustration, as Yoda never said, to anger can lead, and thus to the dark side. And it is this entirely human and understandable emotion which may be leading to a certain amount of pessimism that is creeping into our discussions around the current showdown between ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and SA President Jacob Zuma. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

When it became apparent on Monday that the ANC’s national working committee was calling a special meeting of the national executive meeting, there was huge excitement. That has now given way to gloomy prognoses that Zuma is somehow winning this battle, or that Ramaphosa is going soft. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Zuma is a spent political force. Ramaphosa is in charge. It is important to remember that.

It may seem odd to say that the person who is currently the president is not as powerful as the person who is the deputy president, but it is important to consider the evidence. Then you have to examine what it is that Ramaphosa is actually trying to achieve. And then one must go through the difficulties in doing that. Once that process is completed, the evidence points to the fact that Ramaphosa is in charge of this process, and Zuma is not.

But first, a little recent history. Obviously Ramaphosa’s margin of victory at Nasrec was tiny. He beat Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma by just a 179 votes out of around 5,200 that were cast. As if that were not enough of a problem for him, people who have everything to lose should Zuma win were voted into important positions. Before Monday’s NWC meeting, both ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte publicly proclaimed their support for Zuma, and their belief that he should remain in office.

This means that any move against Zuma is being taken in the teeth of their direct and intense opposition. And it is intense precisely because, for them, this is also a fight to the death. If they lose, and Zuma leaves office, the chances of Magashule facing the criminal justice system are high. There is no public evidence of criminality against Duarte, but her vociferous defence of the Guptas could well mean she also has something to worry about.

Then there is the other, often ignored problem. Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec was also a victory against the misuse of state resources. Police Crime Intelligence, the State Security Agency, and possibly even the Hawks and the national police themselves were surely involved in the ANC election. They would have tried everything to influence the result against Ramaphosa. It is well known that people like Tom Moyane at SARS and Arthur Fraser at State Security backed Zuma. This means that Zuma had basically created a sort of parallel state, where the main agenda of the people involved was to protect their principal, rather than to serve the country’s people.

This then indicates that Ramaphosa is not just up against Zuma, Magashule and Duarte, but also against a repurposed state apparatus. It would be foolish to think that this parallel state is not going to try to throw obstacles in his path.

So if that is the situation, the problems that Ramaphosa is up against, how he has done so far?

On Sunday evening the ANC’s Top Six officials (but without Ramaphosa) went to see Zuma. While it has been portrayed as a meeting in which he was told simply “to go”, it is likely that it was more nuanced than that. It would be more rational as the Top Six to ask how Zuma would prefer to go, giving some control over the process, ensuring there was middle ground. As we now know, Zuma basically said no.

That “no” response led to the NWC meeting on Monday afternoon, and the decision to hold a special NEC meeting on Wednesday. Then, on Tuesday night, that meeting was cancelled by Ramaphosa, after “fruitful” discussions held with Zuma. This means that Zuma blinked. Ramaphosa had called his bluff, and basically demonstrated that he wasn’t afraid of taking the issue to the NEC.

It means that in a very short space of time, the balance of power changed dramatically. And that that had everything to do with the calling of the NEC meeting. This also means that there is actually a clock ticking, there is a point in time at which this has to end. That point is surely now the next meeting of the NEC which is planned for next weekend. At that meeting the NEC will be asked to remove Zuma, and based on Ramaphosa’s reading of the situation, will do so.

It is important to step back here and consider how quickly that happened, and then remember what the forces against Ramaphosa hold, in terms of state institutions and key positions in the ANC.

This examination of the power relationships could also give an indication of what is actually being negotiated. Certainly there is no indication yet of any kind of legal deal for Zuma. The furthest Ramaphosa could officially go would be to extend government money for his lawyers when he comes to need them. But he could not stop the legal process from playing out, once the NPA changes hands. But talk of a legal deal, or a payout, or anything of that nature is surely completely off the table, if only because they are completely illegal in the first place.

Then there is the timing of it all; when will Zuma actually resign (presuming that’s how it plays out)? It has to be before next weekend’s NEC meeting, and he is due to chair a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. That may mean the sweet spot is not actually this weekend as many hope, but only next week. Although this is probably impossible to predict.

At the same time, Ramaphosa has another – for him equally important – aim. That is to ensure the ANC does not split over this. Here the timing could work for him, in that the longer the wait the more public the process of power shifting. In other words, it is surely more likely that people who have previously supported Zuma go to Ramaphosa than the other way round. This could then help him keep it all together.

While the frustration will continue to mount, the ultimate prize should also be kept in mind. When Zuma goes, surely so does a large part of his Cabinet. The social grants payments impasse will be over, the nuclear deal sunk, Cape Town will deal with a capable water affairs minister, the State Security Agency will work more independently, etc etc. But perhaps most important, the finance department, state-owned enterprises, SARS, etc, are likely to be better run. All in all, the institutions of democracy may start to recover, and the economy is likely to grow, which will benefit everyone.

It is a lot to wait for. But it should be worth the wait. DM

Photo: African National Congress (ANC) president, Jacob Zuma during 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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