Zuma’s Wednesday Waterloo

Author: Sello Lediga

No single member, cadre or leader of the African National Congress has received as much forgiveness from the organisation as Jacob Zuma in over a century; no single leader of the ANC has brought the glorious movement into disrepute as much as Jacob Zuma; no single leader of the ANC has dared Africa’s oldest liberation movement to take action against him as Jacob Zuma; and no leader of the ANC ever betrayed the organisation and the people as Jacob Zuma has done with the Guptas, for personal gain.

In a nutshell, this selfless revolutionary leader sold his country to the highest bidder for money. This is nothing short of treason.

History will record that it was on Wednesday, 7 February, in Cape Town, just a day before the officially scheduled 2018 State of The Nation address, that South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, took the long awaited decision to remove Zuma as president of the Republic of South Africa. This special NEC meeting was convened for the sole reason of dealing with the recalcitrance of a cadre who had grown bigger than the organisation that had deployed him to the highest office in the land.

The Cape Town NEC meeting takes place against the backdrop of tectonic shifts inside and outside of South Africa’s most loved political party. Just six weeks earlier, Matamela Cyril Ramaphos sat alone on stage and cried after his election as president of the African National Congress on 18 December in Nasrec, Johannesburg. Ramaphosa had a good reason to shed a tear. He had fought and won in one of the ANC’s most ferocious presidential campaigns in history. Yanked from the comforts of the corporate boardroom in 2012 to lend credibility and legitimacy to a scandal-prone and discredited Jacob Zuma campaign for his second term, the former Secretary General of the party accepted the invitation to run as Zuma’s partner. Elected deputy president in Mangaung, he had a legitimate expectation to succeed Zuma according to ANC tradition.

Ramaphosa was to learn not so much later after Mangaung that Zuma had his own ideas. Not trusting of Ramaphosa, the man from Nkandla hatched his plan of ruling from the grave by shocking the nation long time ago in proclaiming to the nation that he thought time was ripe for a woman president to lead the ANC. Little did we suspect at the time that he was eyeing his former wife. The Hollywood-style 2017 ANC presidential contest pitted the party’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and former African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Instead of supporting his deputy as per tradition, president Zuma marshaled all his forces, both in the party and in the state, to defeat who should naturally be succeeding him. This explains why the hardened former union leader cried on 18 December 2018 at Nasrec as reality sunk in on what he had triumphed over. The president of the ANC and South Africa had done everything possible to prevent him from ascending to the pinnacle of the 106 year old people’s organisation.

It is this wounded Cyril Ramaphosa who will be presenting the traditional political overview of the National Executive Committee meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday. It is a Cyril Ramaphosa who is smarting from another bout of a Zuma humiliation after he showed the Top 6 the middle finger on Sunday when they pleaded with him to step down from his high office. Ramaphosa is under siege and faces the dreary prospect of being dubbed a powerless ANC president if he doesn’t demonstrate to all and sundry that the ANC is the strategic centre and that he is the czar of that centre. Just last month Ramaphosa was the man of the moment, charming the ANC rank and file as the new leader, suggesting to all South Africans that things were about to change and assuring the international community, especially at Davos, that South Africa was open for business. The Buffalo was cheered all over as it charged at Eskom and put the state investigative and prosecutorial agencies on notice, leading to new-found enthusiasm in the Hawks and NPA.

Ramaphosa’s January honeymoon was brought to a sudden halt when the ANC’s newly elected secretariat of Ace Magashule and Jesse Duarte, of the defeated NDZ campaign, openly undermined his authority by contradicting their new leader on every question regarding the possible departure of Zuma from the Union Buildings. This was nothing short of rebellion against the new president of the party. Magashule went on the offensive, insinuating that his new president was a puppet of white monopoly capital and even advised parents not to allow their children to eat McDonald’s. Shockingly, he even exhorted his defeated NDZ faction in KwaZulu Natal to start working for 2022 by dramatically declaring that “it’s only five years comrades; only five years.”

So Ramaphosa will be in a mean mood in Cape Town. He is in such a tight corner that he is naturally dangerous; the man whose “New Deal” is supposed to save the economy of South Africa finds himself undermined by his comrades in the party, clandestinely led by former party president and state president of the republic. Just like before he upped the ante in his presidential campaign, Ramaphosa is once more accused of weakness and not having the balls to assert himself as the undisputed leader of the African National Congress and South Africa. For those who have forgotten, it’s this man who in 1987, at 35, fearlessly took on the might of the apartheid state and the mining industry up to then the biggest and longest strike in South African history. Of course many years in air-conditioned boardrooms take their toll on anyone. However, there is no way Ramaphosa is not going to let this one go. He must emerge victorious in Cape Town to send a clear and unequivocal message to the likes of Magashule and Duarte that there is only one bull in the kraal.

There is only one possible outcome of this important special meeting of the NEC in Cape Town: the recall of Jacob Zuma. Any other outcome will be disastrous for the ANC and catastrophic for Ramaphosa. Not only has Zuma exhausted the patience of his party, he has also abused the courtesy of the likes of Ramaphosa and the new leadership of the organisation who in their magnanimity promised not to humiliate him. Since he will probably not attend the meeting as ex officio, there is no time for the special NEC to dilly dally considering the SONA crisis that the ANC is already in. The NEC has no option but to give Zuma two clear choices; to resign with immediate effect or face an ANC-sponsored Motion of no Confidence in parliament at the earliest opportune moment. It is absolutely crucial that the ANC itself moves the motion against Zuma instead of leaving it to the opposition. Malema and Maimane have publicly declared that since the ANC is unable to implement its decision to recall Zuma, they would gladly assist the ruling party to get rid of its president. The ANC can’t afford to remove its president via the opposition.

As for Jacob Zuma, the poor soul has run out of time and space for further manoeuvre. The Stalingrad strategy has run out of gas. Somehow, the forces of nature seem to be colluding against him in his moment of need. In a few weeks the 783 corruption charges against him will be re-instated; the Zondo State Capture Commission of Inquiry, in which he the key witness, is about to start; his Gupta friends are on the run and a lot sewage is expected when the law catches up with them; the Hawks and NPA, spurred by Ramaphosa, are hard at work and his accomplices like Magashule and Mosebenzi have already been raided by the crime busting agencies; Ramaphosa has started dismantling his gargantuan patronage networks, with Eskom as the first one; even Zuma’s former die-hard acolytes like Fikile Mbalula and Malusi Gigaba are singing the Ramaphosa tune. David Mahlobo, Kebby Maphatsoe, Coleen Maile, Bathabile Dlamini and others are being to lie low to see how the Zuma drama ends in the party.

The greatest mystery of the day is why Zuma insists on this self-evident suicide mission instead of taking the better option of leaving office with some dignity. A friend of mine has a theory that Zuma’s problem is Putin. Having promised the Russians the nuclear deal, the theory goes that money has exchanged hands and that the president of South Africa must deliver on his promises. If this is true, then it makes sense for Zuma to dig in until the ANC removes him from power in which case the Russians will understand that he tried his best to stick to their deal. Of course, this may as well be another conspiracy theory.

To buffalo Ramaphosa my advice is simple: you have been charging long enough and the moment has arrived to gore the stubborn elephant and liberate both the ANC and the country from the current curse. To Nxamalala, take heart, your Napoleon Bonaparte moment has arrived. Cape Town is your Waterloo.

Sello Lediga is a political commentator, historian and author. (083 212 5000)