It was one hell of a week for both the African National Congress and the South African nation.
On Sunday the ANC ended its National Executive Committee meeting in Pretoria and that evening finance minister Pravin Gordhan boarded a plane destined for London. Early on Monday, when he landed at the busy Heathrow airport, like most travelers, he took out his cellphone, switched it on and read his messages. There was a bombshell: president Jacob Zuma ordered him back to South Africa with immediate effect.
The instruction was quite strange. The president had approved this long planned trip to woo investors to invest in South Africa. Thus started a chain of events culminating with a cabinet bloodbath on Thursday in which Gordhan and other ministers and deputy ministers were axed in what is now known as the night of the long knives in which the nation could not go to sleep while awaiting the official presidential statement on the reshuffle. Gupta-owned TV, ANN7, had a list of all the persons fired and hired. It released the names one by one in a night of suspense in which the other TV stations had nothing to offer except follow the lead of ANN7.
By the time president Zuma struck on Thursday evening, he was in a mean mood, for good reason. Two days before, on Tuesday, the nation woke up to learn of the passing away of struggle veteran and Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada. The 87 year old stalwart had been ill for a while. The family and Kathrada Foundation announced that the burial would be on Wednesday and that president Zuma was not welcome to the funeral. This was devastating to the ANC president and president of the republic who had declared Kathrada’s burial a state funeral. In African culture nothing is worse than being barred from a funeral. It is a curse.
While licking his wounds for not being allowed to speak at this important funeral, Zuma watched in disbelief as speaker after speaker accused him of corruption and selling the country to the wealthy Gupta family for personal gain. The most poignant moment was when former president Kgalema Motlanthe read the letter that Kathrada wrote to Zuma about a year ago to which there had not been a reply. Motlanthe ended the letter reading where Kathrada advised Zuma to resign. This caused outrage and consternation in the marquee. Zuma had failed to listen to uncle Kathy up to the day of his death!
Early on Thursday evening Zuma convened a meeting of the Top Six to inform them about his final decision on the fate of Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas after they had objected to their axing on Monday. This time he had had enough and was in no mood to negotiate. He informed them that Gordhan, Jonas and other ministers and deputy ministers were going and that he was invoking his presidential prerogative. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize dissented. Zuma went on and fired the lot and the following day Mantashe publicly criticised Zuma about this decision, especially because performing ministers were axed while the dead wood was protected and even promoted. A few days later both Ramaphosa and Mkhize publicly condemned the president for his actions. That was unprecedented in the history of the ANC. Never before had officials of the party publicly condemned the actions of the president. The ANC is in crisis.
For far too long Ramaphosa has been criticised for not standing up to Zuma. This time, he has done it in the most dramatic way possible. He said the firing of Gordhan on the basis of a fake intelligence report was unacceptable and therefore did not accept the axing of the former finance minister. How the two men are going to work together henceforth will be something to watch.
The two factions in the ANC are about to go to war. In December the party holds its 54th national conference. Although Zuma is expected to distance himself from factional battles and act like an elder statesman as he retires from politics, he is deep in a campaign to anoint his successor. He has chosen his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. He hopes she will keep him out of jail as the father of her children. He has appointed Bathabile Dlamini to run Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. While the campaign was launched with fanfare some months ago, it has virtually ground to a halt. With Dlamini still smarting from the hammering she received from the Constitutional Court and bad publicity overall, she is now a liability to the Dlamini-Zuma campaign. Since her term ended as Chair of the African Union Commission, Dlamini-Zuma is essentially unemployed and has no position to use to campaign. Contrary to all expectations, Zuma hasn’t appointed her Minister in last week’s reshuffle. It is now unclear what her strategy is.
On the other hand, Cyril Ramaphosa appears determined to make his bid for the presidency of the party and of the country. He has upped his anti-corruption rhetoric as he stamps his authority as leader of the anti-Zuma faction. He has a mountain to climb. Zuma and his fellow travelers, the Premier League, are a force to reckon with. They possess all the resources required and patronage infrastructure to romp home in December and retain the presidency of the party and country. They have identified Ramaphosa, Mantashe, Gordhan and company as the enemy. They wii do everything in their power to stop the Ramaphosa train in its tracks.
So, between now and the conference expect fireworks. Although it is still early, it looks like Zuma has miscalculated this time. His axing of Gordhan and other ministers seems to have woken up a sleeping giant in South African politics. The funeral and memorial services of Kathrada saw the re-emergence of a plethora of civil society organisations of the 1980s. Those cadres who, when the ANC was in exile, led the UDF have found each other again. They gathered at Johannesburg city hall, the very same venue where Allan Boesak called for the formation of the UDF, and exchanged greetings and discussed the future of South Africa under a corrupt and decaying ANC government. This wasthe most nonracial gathering in South Africa in a long time. Pravin Gordhan, Ebrahim Patel, Trevor Manuel, Derek Hanekom, Vally Moosa, Joe Phaahla, Mcebisi Jonas and many others who led the final assault against apartheid in the late Eighties.
As for the Tripartite Alliance, the SACP position is unequivocal – Zuma must go. Solly Mapaila, the deputy general secretary of the Party, has been on the rampage. He has been leading the charge and is the most outspoken SACP leader censuring the ANC about its bad ways. Cosatu, the largest union federation in the country, has nailed its colours to the mast, Ramaphosa must succeed Zuma as president of the ANC. With their Central Executive Committee meeting a week after Zuma’s reshuffle, they are most likely to follow the tune of of the Party and call for Zuma’s resignation. The wheel has turned full circle since Polokwane when Nxamalala was the darling of the alliance. Today both the SACP and Cosatu have turned against the dancing leader. Will this fallout lead to the fall of Msholozi?
Source: Sello Lediga