A delegation from the newly elected ANC leadership will be dispatched to President Jacob Zuma to advise him to step down voluntarily, as pressure mounts on him to immediately give Cyril Ramaphosa space to rebuild the party’s battered image.
In the days following Ramaphosa’s victory over his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the party’s 54th elective conference in Johannesburg, ANC leaders have been involved in intense discussions about a conflict-free exit for Zuma from the presidency.
There is pressure that Ramaphosa – who will deliver the party’s January 8 anniversary statement and preside over the national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla – should be the one to chair the Cabinet meeting later next month and deliver the state of the nation address in February.
Another view was that Zuma should be allowed to make the state of the nation address his farewell speech and signal a smooth handover.
One ANC leader said: “It was said that he should be requested [to step down] outside of the formalities of the NEC processes, to avoid making it appear as if the NEC removed him. If he does not cooperate, a resolution of the NEC can be easily secured. We all agree that the sooner he goes, the better.”
Party insiders close to the process said the proposal was that Ramaphosa and new ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, an ardent Zuma loyalist, would lead the discussions with Zuma.
He will be told that this is to salvage the party’s reputation before the 2019 general elections and, that if he sees out the rest of his term, his scandal-tainted image will hurt the party at the polls. Elections are expected before June 2019.
While many of Zuma’s supporters have accepted that change needs to happen, some insist he should resist calls to cut his tenure short by 18 months.
“Let me tell you, that thing of a recall is not going to happen to Jacob Zuma,” said one source close to Zuma.
“He is not Thabo Mbeki and you must know that this is not over for Zuma.”
The ANC recalled former president Mbeki in September 2008, eight months before the end of his term.
What complicates matters is that, unlike after the December 2007 Polokwane conference when Zuma emerged with a clear majority that enabled the recall, this time the spoils are almost evenly split.
The Zuma insider said the ANC was “headed for trouble like you have never seen before”, citing the roughly 50/50 split in the top six and the NEC.
“This is not unity, it is chaos,” he said.
Ramaphosa supporters say he will be emboldened by the national conference resolution on the two centres of power between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings.
It states that ANC headquarters enjoy central authority and those in government have to toe the line.
“In the resolution, it is clear that the centre of power is in Luthuli House and it is there, even in Ramaphosa’s speech. He was asserting his authority that he is now in charge on behalf of the ANC, which is the centre of power for all its members, including Zuma,” said another ANC insider.
If the Zuma recall proposal is defeated in ANC structures, Ramaphosa supporters expect an opposition party to table a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly, based on the latest damning court rulings against Zuma.
They believe that under the cover of a secret ballot, ANC MPs are likely to side with the new leader and vote for Zuma’s departure.
They are also putting faith in the fact that even Cabinet ministers who appear loyal to Zuma may try to curry favour with Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa’s backers say Zuma’s resignation will enable him to hit the ground running and win over disillusioned ANC voters well ahead of the crucial 2019 general election.
But Zuma’s backers say they have sufficient numbers on the NEC to fight back.
“We are ready for them and we will tell the branches that they are sowing disunity, despite the conference being clear on the need for unity,” one Zuma lieutenant said.
An ANC insider said Zuma could be dangerous if he was “fighting with his back against the wall”.
“The moment you begin to pursue them, they develop ideas, and they will remove you before you remove them,” the insider said.
“If, finally, he is sent packing, it won’t be because of a recall, but there will be negotiations for him to go.”
Ramaphosa’s allies say that, as ANC president, he occupies a powerful position and could manage and influence the NEC just like Zuma had, blocking and reversing its decisions.
“Politically speaking, you need to have power, authority and influence, and this is what any president possesses,” said former ANC North West deputy chairperson and Ramaphosa supporter China Dodovu, adding that ministers, deputies and other key appointees in government would tailor their allegiances to keep their jobs.
Dodovu said that because many leaders “are controlled by their stomachs” and “think more about their families and friends than about the general welfare of the people”, they will toe the new leadership’s line.
“My take is that no one will resist the call for President Zuma to step down. They will be scared to raise their hands and object. They fully know there is a risk of losing a lucrative position with its perks.”
Dodovu predicted that “the decision to recall President Zuma will be smooth” and “will not be resisted”.
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane told City Press that talk of two centres of power was misplaced and there was no need to recall Zuma.
“If Zuma is to be recalled, there must be a reason, just as there was for [Mbeki]. Here we must hear what the reason will be and I am sure leaders will apply their minds. But it can’t be that even before the president closes the conference and there is a declaration, that you people are running with a headline. It is so malicious. You are hurting the ANC,” she said.
The two centres of power is “a silly discussion because a member of the ANC is a deployee in government and you execute the mandate of the ANC”.
Mokonyane said the discussion has turned to “fashionable politics that are hurting the ANC”.
Recently, there have been “narratives that are hurting the movement and people grab on to them for various agendas”.
If the ANC wants to resolve the overlap of party and state presidents between its elective conferences and the general elections, it should consider harmonising the timing of the two events, she said.
South Africans should appreciate that Zuma “did not come to this conference to seek a third term”, and should respect that he is “left with a year or so to end his term”.
“When the time comes for him to account for his second term in government, it will be done. All other things are malicious gossip and insinuations.”
Last month, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete told City Press that the matter of Zuma’s recall would be the first item the new leadership should be preoccupied with.
She is against a recall, saying the 18 months between the conference and the general election are important to allow the party’s new leadership to take conference resolutions and apply them – “including how you restructure government”.
Meanwhile, City Press learnt that Zuma met ANC elders this week, where the transition was discussed.
Among those who attended the meeting were former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and leaders from the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma camps.
A conciliatory Zuma is said to have congratulated Ramaphosa and spoken about how, in 1994, Nelson Mandela had wanted him to succeed him and how Mbeki wanted Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him.
He spoke about how Mbeki was Oliver Tambo’s preferred successor, but the younger man gave way to Mandela.
The gist of Zuma’s message was about the crucial role of elders, who have always advised on succession planning in the ANC.
City Press understands that Zuma told the gathering “unity is important because we need each other in the battlefield, and to mobilise society ahead of 2019”.
He said he knew he was not liked much, but he played his part and did his best to ensure pillars of the Freedom Charter were implemented.
He urged the incoming leadership to continue the good fight.
Zuma praised Dlamini-Zuma for her courage.
Sources said it was “an emotional moment that ended in hugs and with him wiping what appeared to be tears from his eyes.”
He then joined Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma’s hands.