South Africa

Analysis: The night Zuma completed his transition into a has-been

By Carien Du Plessis 15 February 2018

By the time ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte was praising former president Jacob Zuma for his role in the Struggle and as president, nobody was feeling her any more. When power starts shifting, it moves pretty quickly – as Cyril Ramaphosa’s swearing-in as president in the next day or two will prove. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

The day on which Jacob Zuma was expected to resign as president, the Hawks finally swooped to raid the Gupta brothers’ compound in Saxonwold, long alleged to have been the place where many corrupt dealings and appointments happened.

It’s unlikely that there was a direct political order for this to happen, but it was symbolic of how those who were previously untouchable had now become human again. Cyril Ramaphosa had not been ANC president for two months yet, but it was becoming clear that he would soon take over from Zuma as the country’s president, and it is as if the loyalty of state institutions and law enforcement agencies follow the powerful. Even the currency does this – it had been strengthening over the past few days.

Zuma was defiant until the end, and by the time he’d stepped up to the podium in the press room of the Union Buildings late on Wednesday night – still joking with journalists that they couldn’t be tired because there was work to be done, and laughing as president for the last time – it wasn’t even clear that he’d resign.

He spoke of how fallible leaders could be, and how he was no exception. Surprisingly, the man who has been found to have failed in his duties to uphold the Constitution spoke highly of it as the “supreme law of the land”.

He said he feared neither a vote of confidence nor impeachment, even though it involved a loss of perks and benefits, but he repeated that he asked his party “to articulate my transgressions and the reason for its immediate instruction that I vacate office”.

Zuma reiterated his wishes that he had wanted to serve a few more months to gradually hand over responsibilities to Ramaphosa.

Eventually, however, he said he has “come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect” even though he disagreed with the decision made by the leadership of his organisation in this regard. He said he did so because he remained a loyal cadre.

The Zuma in the dark suit and red tie – he is particularly fond of red ties, especially when he is in fighting mode – was different to the more casually dressed Zuma earlier in the day, fighting it out and portraying himself as a victim in an interview with the SABC.

It’s as yet unclear what happened in between that interview and the late-night address, other than a hastily convened ANC press conference in which spokesperson Pule Mabe continued with the constructive line, saying it was good that Zuma had aired his views.

After that there was silence, although a few reports did suggest that Ramaphosa had gone to Zuma’s place, apparently for talks.

All throughout, party Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who was one of the messengers to Zuma after the national executive committee’s meeting to recall him on Monday night, seems to have disappeared from the picture.

Magashule was the one who, on Tuesday, could not tell journalists what Zuma had done wrong. He is also the premier of the province that hosted the Estina dairy project, which was now being investigated by the Hawks and which was the reason for the Wednesday’s Gupta compound raid.

Magashule, a former Zuma loyalist, was clearly somewhat conflicted at the press conference, but he will presumably soon have to start showing closer co-operation with Ramaphosa as the president of the organisation and also the country – if he isn’t locked up first, of course.

His deputy, Jessie Duarte, was left to sing Zuma’s praises at a press conference that followed immediately after his speech in the Union Buildings. She was prepared for his resignation with a written statement.

Having taken the difficult decision to recall Comrade Jacob Zuma, the African National Congress nonetheless wants to salute the outstanding contribution he has made and express its profound gratitude to him for the role he has played in the African National Congress spanning over 60 years of loyal service,” she said.

From now on, however, Zuma might find that the comrades mind him less.

After Monday’s meeting it was reported that even leaders who had previously heckled fellow leaders for not supporting Zuma were now pulling behind Ramaphosa.

It’s not turning against JZ, it is supporting the rightfully elected leader,” one of those who changed direction explained. This is also one of the arguments many supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki used when Zuma came to power, and they remained in place.

Ramaphosa will soon have the presidency of the country in hand, and the power will be concentrated in one centre instead of two – one of the only actual reasons Magashule could articulate for Zuma’s removal.

Ramaphosa will be able to reshuffle the Cabinet, if necessary, and effect limited changes at state institutions.

It’s still too early to know how many Cabinet members – if any – would resign in Zuma’s wake. It’s unlikely to be a mass, as many have already turned.

There’s no political investment in being faithful to a has-been, after all. DM

Photo: ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) and outgoing President Jacob Zuma (L) during the 54th ANC National Conference held at the NASREC Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 December 2017. EPA-EFE/Cornell Tukiri

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