South Africa


Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s criticism of ‘step-aside’ rule enforces it as ANC’s central issue — the party’s future depends on it

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s criticism of ‘step-aside’ rule enforces it as ANC’s central issue — the party’s future depends on it
From left: Suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw) | ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR) | Former minister of health Zweli Mkhize. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

With a series of public comments, ANC leadership contender and Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma sparked a new debate around the party’s ‘step-aside’ rule. While she has now publicly opposed the rule, it is not certain that this will find favour with the majority of the ANC, but it will add fuel to the burning fire inside the party, that’s for sure.

While several leading figures in the ANC oppose the “step-aside” rule, there is a strong 2024 electoral case for the party to retain it. And it is clear from his comments that President Cyril Ramaphosa will argue strongly that the rule must be retained.

On Sunday, Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma gave a lengthy live interview on the SABC news channel, during which she strongly criticised the rule. 

“The problem is that you step aside, you are charged, you step aside. Three years on, the trial hasn’t started. What is that? What kind of justice is that? Because justice should be, they investigate you, once they’ve charged you the trial must start within months. So it’s not justice when you can wait for three years before the trial starts. So what were you waiting for if three months or three years on, you still haven’t started the trial?”

Dlamini Zuma is of course correct that many cases have dragged on for years.

The Ace Magashule case

While she emphasised she was not referring to any particular example, just two days before her interview the case against suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was postponed until January next year, meaning he cannot be a part of the ANC’s electoral conference in December and is ineligible to contest for the top, or any, positions.

While Magashule was indeed first charged more than two years ago by the National Prosecuting Authority, he has brought several applications, including one now before the Supreme Court of Appeal, which has led to this taking so long.

The recent history of political cases suggests delays are common.

Of course, Dlamini Zuma is putting her finger on the weakness of the “step-aside” rule: that someone could suffer from simply being charged, even if they were cleared at a later date.

That said, her comments will surely cement the impression that she is now tacking towards the RET grouping within the ANC.

This is an interesting decision.

For a start, it will lead to more speculation about the mutually beneficial relationship between her and her ex-husband. Former president Jacob Zuma has reportedly asked his supporters in KZN to strongly back Dlamini Zuma.

Second, this may push Ramaphosa and his allies into counteraction.

Speaking during the opening of the ANC’s policy conference in June, Ramaphosa said that “South Africans will never forgive us” if the party gave up its efforts to fight corruption.

This was surely all about the “step-aside” rule, and about Ramaphosa defending it strongly. Dlamini Zuma’s statement sets her clearly against him.

At the end of the gathering in June, the ANC’s policy conference resolved to discuss the rule again in December, but gave it strong backing.

It appeared that only KZN wanted it scrapped entirely, while Limpopo wanted some changes and the other provinces wanted to retain it.

Backing for Mkhize

While Dlamini Zuma setting herself on a course against Ramaphosa may win her some support, there are limits to what she can achieve.

Already, the eThekwini region of the ANC, her own, has said it will back Dr Zweli Mkhize to lead the ANC. And KZN, her own province, is widely expected to back him when it makes a public announcement on Tuesday.

As University of Mpumalanga political analyst Khanya Vilakazi pointed out on Newzroom Afrika on Monday, it is interesting that Dlamini Zuma is giving an interview now. He says that she has remained silent on issues in the ANC during the past five years, and, “Only now does she show her true hand and by doing so is on the back foot because she has been quite silent.”

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

This may well count against her. Taken together with Mkhize’s strength in KZN, it points to her campaign’s impact being severely limited.

Those who oppose the “step-aside” resolution are, for now, in an apparent minority in the ANC.

There is another major problem for this grouping, which is, as Ramaphosa pointed out, that the electorate is watching the ANC closely. One of the dominant themes of the 2024 elections is likely to be corruption. The ANC has to fight hard against its own track record there, and wavering on the issue will not help.

If it were to turn around and scrap the one resolution it has implemented on corruption, it will be punished by fed-up voters.

Nasrec resolution

While some claim that the “step-aside” rule is only a resolution of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the original resolution taken at the Nasrec conference in 2017 was far stronger.

It said that anyone accused of corruption should be removed, while the resolution of the NEC requires that someone be formally charged for the resolution to be invoked. 

Even if this resolution were overturned, there is still the ANC’s constitution, which, as former president Kgalema Motlanthe recently reminded the party, states that someone who is convicted of wrongdoing is no longer eligible for membership of the party. It has simply been ignored for many years.

Also, were the resolution to be overturned at the ANC’s December conference, it may well lead to another form of chaos, in that Magashule, who currently cannot challenge for office or even attend the conference, may argue that he should now be allowed to contest for a leadership position. And that if the conference were over, he would have been unfairly treated and so it should be held again.

One can well imagine the legal and political mess.

But, in essence, the real problem within the ANC remains the same: that, as others have noted, the delegates who voted for the resolution to remove those accused of corruption from their positions also voted in favour of Ace Magashule to be secretary-general.

Underneath this is another issue, which is that ANC conference delegates appear to consistently vote in favour of people against whom corruption accusations have been made. This mirrors the situation in the US where people voted for Donald Trump despite the long list of accusations against him.

Until the ANC is able to deal with this issue, it will not be able to resolve its corruption problem — which will continue to weaken it in the eyes of voters. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    I’m sure those that are waiting for years on full pay don’t give a damn about justice being served swiftly, as she so self-righteously states. I would love to see the salary total of suspended ministers and parliamentarians awaiting their turn in the dock, and exactly how much all the deliberate delays have added to that expense.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Very rich coming from the ex-spouse of Jacob Zuma who has, by hook or by crook, despite his protestations that he wants his day in court, to drag out his trial for well over a decade.

    This self-servingness, serving the self rather than the country, gets to the very heart of the malaise that has bankrupted our country, almost choked our economy, paralysed Eskom, Transnet, PRASA and so much more.

    NDZ’s links and friendships with some of the dirtiest criminal elements in our society also need to be thoroughly linked and investigated; this lady talks with a forked tongue.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    “That said, her comments will surely cement the impression that she is now tacking towards the RET grouping within the ANC.”.
    I don’t think this was every in doubt.

  • Abel Mngadi says:

    Whilst she has the right to her opinion, she forgets that most of these cases are postponed as a result of appeals by the accused. She deliberately forgets that point.

  • Chris 123 says:

    If all accused cadres stepped aside there would only be about 3 people left.

  • Matt Ferrey says:

    A parallel universe. Deciding whether or not criminals and criminality should be endorsed or not. This is ridiculous, but why should we be surprised?

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    A nice expose of NDZs exploits concerning Sarafina 2 and the Virodene scandal would be great round about now.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Well, obviously! Same reason they don’t think that the Constitution is for everyone. You cannot steal and plunder if there are laws in place (and they are enforced)!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Since its president has lost his backbone, if he ever had one, this party is on its death bed.

  • jeyezed says:

    With Mantashe blaming the COSATU audience for his own obfuscation and now NDZ condoning misbehaviour, the ANC leadership is showing how divorced it has become from the realities of the situation.

  • Bellamy Block says:

    With so many putting up the hands for leadership positions, how united or divided will the ANC be after December? And it is not only members up against each other, it is provinces putting up their own slates, and some saying their support comes with conditions. So what happends if the Kzn slate does not get anyone onto the NEC? Does this then put them in opposition to the the other provinces? Add to that if there opposition to the “Step Aside Rule”(which is most likely) is again defeated, does this then add to the infighting within the ANC?
    Let’s add to the mix, Mmusi Maimane, who still carries a lot support amongst the black, middle class, besides being a unfying factor of sorts between the races. Also add ActionSA who appear to be growing their support base and here Herman Mashaba does have his retractors, but he to enjoys very good support amongst the electorate.
    All of these put together as we move to 2024 all points to a distinctly changed political landscape that awaits us.
    There are those who will be very fearful for obvious reasons. But there are others, myself included, who are very excited about what the future holds in store post 2024

  • Hilary Morris says:

    The ANC is rapidly becoming a disaster wrapped in a nightmare, and sadly, too many are fast asleep. Listening to the excitement expressed by radio callers at the prospect of a Zuma return, we should now all be in despair. Time to change the “Cry the Beloved Country” to “Weep the Beloved Country”.

  • Geoff Young says:

    NDZ’s comments would only be valid if there was a history of elected ANC officials being charged and then acquitted. I would like to see the stats on that but the NPA more than likely only brings such charges when they have a very solid case. On the other hand, NDZ’s argument also presumes the NPA is biased and is used to remove political opponents by charging them with a crime, regardless of the legal merits. That may well be true too.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    The part is preparing for its final implosion.

  • Dellarose Bassa says:

    Gatvol of the Zumas!
    Can they not all depart for Dubai already – AFTER SARS does the necessary after a long overdue audit?
    In a nation full of talented, highly skilled people, of all races, who have contributed immensely & continue to contribute to building our beloved country, why must we be subjected relentlessly to these obsolete “politicians”? Hasn’t she & her ilk caused enough damage already?
    Devoid of ideas, integrity or vitality, they impose themselves on our tax-payer funded TV screens in dreadfully dull “interviews” where the TV “journalists” are hopelessly uninformed, clearly do not read widely & have seemingly zero memory of the history of the person being interviewed.
    SABC TV “journalists”, except in the rare exception, do not prepare themselves thoroughly for the interview/panel discussion. It then turns into an opportunity for the “interviewees” being given a platform to waste the nation’s time & money peddling rambling, self-serving opinions while being treated with reverence by the hopeless interviewer.
    Why was NDZ not stopped in her tracks & corrected that the miscreants charged with corruption are the ones responsible for dragging out the process & reminded of her own ex’s Stalingrad tactics?
    The “experts” being trotted out nightly to offer solutions to the energy crisis, with the rare exceptions, are no better. The difference between these overnight “experts” & those who do offer informed, evidence-based, frank analysis & solutions is astounding.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The South African public and voters are not interested in ANC gimmicks of step – aside and the integrity commission but in the law enforcement and the judiciary. They correctly see these as internal ANC processes that have nothing to do with getting those who have committed crimes against the state and the people of South Africa being investigated, arrested, prosecuted and ultimately wearing orange overalls. It is the media that makes them an issue and for Joe Six Pack whether a person steps aside are not it is an ANC matter not a South African matter and the public and voters will judge the ANC with what it does and does not do including bringing criminals within its midst to justice. The perception of the police, NPA and judiciary is what counts. For a President of the country to tell us about step – aside or integrity commission is hogwash as those are internal ANC processes. It says a lot about a journalist and journalism to be peddling these instead of asking about progress on bringing the corrupt to account through the criminal justice system not ANC processes. I call these the ANC journalists. A true South African journalist would be asking the Hawks and the NPA about progress in the arrest of those who looted the public purse rather than peddling ANC internal processes. A true journalist would be asking when is Zizi Kodwa going to be fired and arrested for theft and corruption. The list is very long and you do not do it as you framed Ramaphosa as a saint!

  • Keith Beeston says:

    Priorities. endless interruptions and arguments by all parties in parliament. nothing meaningful achieved to benefit the millions of voters who pay their wages. No change in living conditions, employment, wages but life gets harder every year, I cannot understand why the voters continue to vote for hardship???? are they receiving fake news in massive doses?
    Who craves hardship everyday when you have the power to change.

  • Grant Turnbull says:

    I would like to see the salaries and perks lowered for politicians. They must be paid accorfing to formal proven qualifications. Theres been enough time for them to study, they cant claim a lack of ‘priviledge’. Compete on qualifications and previous success only. No jobs for pals.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.