So now we know (as if we didn’t before): Jacob Zuma does not act in the best interest of this country or even the ANC.
By giving the proverbial finger to his party for the last two weeks he has made it clear that the only thing that matters to him is Jacob Zuma – even though it was clear as daylight that his time was up.
The writing was on the wall the moment Cyril Ramaphosa was announced the new president of the ANC at Nasrec. Even Zuma realised it. You only had to look at the expression of absolute fury on his face after the announcement to know that he knew that it was the end of the Zuma era. But, like the worst of the dictators in history he has been hanging onto power for dear life.
Despite Ramaphosa emphasising that the ANC did not want to humiliate Zuma, the president refused to exit gracefully. So it was up to his party to make it 100% clear to him that he had long overstayed his welcome, had become a liability for both the country and the ANC and therefore had to go.
But despite their best efforts it seems he just dug in his heels.
The decision to postpone SONA is clearly intended to give the ANC and specifically Ramaphosa time to deal with the Zuma issue – no easy feat.
As we know, Zuma is a master strategist when it comes to political manoeuvres. Although he knows that he and his candidate were defeated at Nasrec in December, he also knows it was only by 90 votes. (Ramaphosa won with 179, so 90 votes more for NDZ would have given her the victory.)
It is also clear that if it wasn’t for the last minute court cases that disqualified more than 200 delegates who would, in all likelihood, have voted for NDZ, Ramaphosa would have lost.
The final composition of the rest of the top six was always something the Zuma camp was going tobe satisfied with. David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte were Zuma supporters and the Zuma camp was happy to live with Paul Mashatile and Gwede Mantashe. The unforeseen court cases were the only thing that put a spanner in the works for Camp Zuma and so they lost the top position.
Zuma used the division in the top six as a small lifebuoy. Fully aware that although the Ramaphosa camp had succeeded in getting a majority on the ANC’s national working committee (NWC), but that the national executive committee (NEC), the highest decision making body, had not been tested he then insisted on a NEC decision – clearly in the hope of another life line.
That was risky for Ramaphosa. If the NEC had not agreed on Zuma’s immediate removal, the dominoes could have started to fall the wrong way.
Yes, the NEC would have threatened Zuma with the vote of no-confidence on February 22, but he is no fool. He would have known that for the motion to pass the NEC would have had to instruct their MPs to vote with the opposition.
But the ANC would always find it extremely difficult or near impossible to give such a big victory to the EFF (who tabled the motion). To mitigate that problem they could have agreed to grant their MPs a free vote, but I am sure Zuma would have been willing to take his chances in that case.
And let’s be clear: If Zuma had survived another vote of no-confidence with or without a secret ballot, it would have been a massive, if not fatal, blow to Ramaphosa.
And so by last night it was time for Ramaphosa to flex his muscles. From what we know he had not been directly involved in the “transitional arrangement discussions” with Zuma before that. It was apparently a deliberate strategy to keep Ramaphosa out and only call him in (Codesa-style) when all other avenues had been exhausted.
Late last night we were told that the discussions were “constructive and fruitful”, thus the NEC meeting was cancelled. I have to admit that I am always worried when political parties use those type of “spinning words”. Let’s hope that the discussion is also forceful and decisive, at least from Ramaphosa’s side.
Clearly the time is over to be Mr Nice Guy and all the “we-don’t-want-to-humiliate-him” business. Zuma has not extended the same courtesy to the top six, his new ANC president or the ANC members who clearly want him to leave.
Furthermore, he has embarrassed our country more times than we care to remember and he has destroyed the legacy of Madiba and all former leaders of the ANC on just about every level.
It is time for Ramaphosa to just get him out! And quickly, because if he doesn’t, it might just give Zuma enough space and political oxygen to hang on till 2019.
Any further hesitation would also result in a negative reaction on the financial markets. It will erode the authority of Ramaphosa and in the process destroy the moment of optimism that exists in the post-Nasrec era.
Most importantly, it will destroy the little bit of confidence and hope South Africans have that the politicians, and especially the governing party, can act for the greater good of our nation.
To quote the ANC’s 1994 election slogan: “Sekunjalo!” (Now is the time!)
– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.