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20 November 2017 15:38 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

The Palace Coup that was not to be

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

At first, most in the room did not clearly hear what Comrade Derek said; even Mantashe had to “request a repeat of the point please”. “I submit a motion of no confidence,” repeated Derek.

I wonder what went through Derek Hanekom’s mind just before he stood up in the ANC NEC meeting to innocently add another point to the agenda. No doubt, the Secretary-General would have gone through the standard agenda items and asked if anyone wanted to add additional points to it before adopting the agenda.

“Yes, Comrade Derek,” asked the Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, “what is your point?”

“I would like to put forward a motion of no confidence in our ANC President, Jacob Zuma, please.”

At first, most in the room did not clearly hear what Comrade Derek said; even Mantashe had to “request a repeat of the point please”.

“I submit a motion of no confidence,” repeated Derek.

At which point some almost fell of their chairs, others immediately and instinctively reached for their pockets, so as to get hold of their mobile phones, only to be reminded that they are expected to leave it at the front door in individually marked envelopes, so as to ensure people’s full attention but also as a security protocol for those who might want to listen in on the deliberations of the day. Enemies, foreign or domestic, that is.

Shit, no phones means one cannot alert those that are not present in this usually mundane meeting which just became the most important thing since sliced bread. The gaze from the President in the direction of Comrade Derek was palpable, I’m sure. Many did not dare look at the President for fear of what their facial expression may reveaL. It might look too agreeable to the motion and that would be a disaster or at best career limiting.

On the other side of the country, some NEC members were just landing in Cape Town after their two-hour flight from Johannesburg. They of course did tender their written apologies to the SG indicating that they would not be able to attend due to another commitment, in this case, a wedding of a very dear friend in the Franschhoek valley. The Moet, Veuve Clicquot and other bubblies had already been chilling for some days in preparation for the festivities, but it was not to be. Hardly some hours in the Mother City and the phones were now ringing non-stop and the message was clear. Get back to Gauteng NOW!

“What’s happening?”

“We are under attack!”

“Calm down and talk slowly, what do you mean under attack?”

“A motion of no confidence in the President has been submitted and is now being discussed in the NEC.”

“What! Who?”

“We have to go guys,” says Malusi to the other NEC members, no time to explain.”

The back office staff jump into gear.

“We must get on a plane now.”

“But all the flights are fully booked, Minister.”

“Listen here, I don’t care what you do, just bloody do it now, what about the Air Force base at Ysterplaat?”

“Where, sir?”

“For goodness sake, are you South African or what?”

To be sure, some Ministers flew business class and, where permitting, first class as well. Anything just to get back to the all-important NEC meeting at St. Georges Hotel in Irene. “Delay the proceedings” was the word in the corridors – and delay they did. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma cancelled whatever she had on and redirected traffic to the NEC meeting as well.

Zuma, of course, was taking copious and precise notes so as to ensure he did not miss any – and, more important, anyone’s – inputs. The deliberations of many NEC members I’m sure was about so many fault lines the ANC has had to contend with over the last 18 months because of the President, to say the least. Starting with the all-important Constitutional Court ruling which stated that the Office of the President had failed to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Republic and hence failed in its duties. Then came the 783 charges, which another court said must be reinstated, for there was no rational reason why the then NPA head dropped the said charges at the time. Then along came Thuli, first with her explosive Security in Comfort report and recommendations and then her State of Capture report just days before she vacated her public office. Minister Pravin Gordhan’s master stroke with the submission of the dossier surrounding the R7.6-billion suspicious transactions by the Gupta family was the final straw which saw the beginning of the Zuma empire crumble.

These were but a few of the crucial elements put forward to justify the motion of no confidence in the ANC President. As other NEC members finally made their way into the room from the far corners of our country, President Zuma was ready to respond to some of these allegations, when a VIP security personnel member leaned over and whispered into the President’s ear:

“They are ready for us at the official residence sir.”

“What?” inquired the President somewhat irritably.

“The official visit of the President of Uganda sir. You agreed to meet with him sir.”

“Shit, now, seriously, in the middle of this? Do you have any idea what is happening here?”

“I’m just the messenger sir.”

“Okay, okay, let’s just quickly go. To hell with Solly and the DA’s blue light policy, just get me there fast.”

“Mr President, so lovely, how’s Janet and the kids, the country doing well I presume? Excellent, well very nice seeing you, I have to go, matters of state to attend to; do send my love to the family.” All the while looking at his phone filled with many an SMS about the proceedings at St Georges Hotel. “Step on it and get me back to the NEC meeting.”

In the end, the Zuma faction prevailed, as we now know; the SG averted a catastrophe, some may argue, by not allowing a secret vote on the motion.

Two elements the anti-Zuma gang did manage to win though:

  1. 1. That a consultative conference will take place to discuss the state of the ANC and its leadership and maybe even the current voting system of the organisation which inevitably leads to the kind of challenges now faced in the ANC.
  2. 2. Gwede in summarising the proceedings did emphasise that the decision not to entertain the motion of no confidence was primarily premised on a showing of unity within the organisation and as such no one will be allowed to sow disunity outside of this all-important meeting, meaning, whoever spoke out in the manner that they did will not face any retribution outside of this meeting. In short, Gwede was saying emphatically that there will be no Cabinet reshuffle any time soon.

“For if Comrades cannot speak out in the NEC meeting, the highest decision-making body between elective national conferences, then where can one speak out?” said the SG.

The palace coup was averted but the Zuma of just a few months ago, wielding so much power as to reshuffle Nene amongst others, is no more. The kitchen cabinet is back at the drawing board and so they should be, but rest assured, so too is the anti-Zuma group, plotting their next move.

This group has come to the inescapable conclusion that Zuma cannot be defeated politically, that he has the numbers, provided him by the Premier league. And so, the strategy must be that he and his cohort be weakened on other fronts. In comes the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), the only intelligence agency that is not part of the Security Cluster and hence the only agency that is not controlled by the Zuma faction. It reports directly to the National Treasury and hence the Finance Minister. Their mandate is to track the illicit flow of money throughout the country, in particular tax evaders, crime syndicates, big corporates and of course all other suspicious transactions.

The Zuma faction thought that if they controlled SARS they would be able to avoid the entity tracking certain individuals and families, but they did not bank on the FIC, the new thorn in their corrupt flesh. This is why Zuma desperately needs a reshuffle, to take control of the FIC, and it is also the main reason why he has not signed the FIC Act to date.

I suspect, after the first salvo, which was the dossier on suspicious transactions by the Gupta family, the next shot will be targeting the Premier League, who we know is far from well-meaning and law-abiding citizens of our country. In other words, force the Zuma faction through a litany of attacks, both in the courts and the public gallery, to come to the negotiations table and maybe, just maybe, they can meet each other halfway and agree on a new compromised leadership that includes the top six positions. Watch this space as they say.

Attending the 3rd commemoration of the passing of Mandela the other night, Cyril Ramaphosa clearly decided that he is ready to speak his mind on some of these matters. Calling for unity and telling the leadership of the ANC to listen to each other. To listen to the veterans and to listen to the people. I’m afraid the call for unity is coming from only one direction and it ain’t the Zuma fellows.

Whether the veterans will succeed in putting the uncomfortable issues on the agenda at the consultative conference remains to be seen. But the fact that it will be followed by a constitutional structure of the ANC, the National General Council, means that any and all decisions or recommendations from it can and probably will be over-ridden.

The palace coup might have failed but hope springs eternal it seems, especially in the ANC. The year 2017, however, will undoubtedly be one of great despair. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell in his autobiography, which I think is very apt, “like great winds, will blow us hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching the very verge of despair”.

May the best man win. DM

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

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