Ministers threaten to quit and top NEC figures come close to blows
Several cabinet ministers threatened to resign at the weekend if Jacob Zuma remained as South Africa’s president. The ministers made the dramatic threat on Sunday on the sidelines of a tense extended national executive committee (NEC) meeting. The threat can be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against Zuma, who has been planning a cabinet reshuffle to purge his political opponents.
One of the ministers said: “It’s a malicious rumour – we are fighting within ANC processes.”
The ministers are known to Times Media.
Many ministers who have been contemplating resigning spoke out in support of Zuma’s recall at a three-day NEC meeting in Irene at the weekend.
The ministers who spoke out face a stark choice should he remain in office – either resign and make way for Zuma to fill their positions with his loyalists or wait for him to reshuffle them for launching an attack on him.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, his deputy, Joe Phaahla, and ANC economic transformation chief Enoch Godongwana were among those who led the charge against the embattled president.
Sources said Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe and African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma came to Zuma’s defence, saying he must stay put.
Sources from both sides said there was a point in the meeting at which Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa almost came to blows.
Cele chided an irate Mthethwa about the Marikana massacre when Mthethwa was police minister.
Cele used this to illustrate how ANC leaders failed to take responsibility for their actions.
The NEC remained split last night on the future of party president Zuma, with members on both sides pushing to win the day after his recall as state president was raised at the meeting on Saturday.
In an unprecedented debate, which most analysts see as the waning of Zuma’s political clout, some members called for him to step down and those close to him came to his defence.
The NEC meeting was supposed to have ended on Sunday but was extended to yesterday as both sides failed to agree on a way forward for the president.
It was announced last night that a media briefing on the outcome of the meeting, expected to conclude late last night, would be held today.
Zuma is unlikely to lose the battle, but the fierce debate in the NEC showed his detractors were beginning to gain confidence.
The high-stakes boardroom battle will have far-reaching ramifications for the ANC and the country – and particularly for the individuals who spoke out against Zuma in his presence during the meeting.
Zuma opponents demanded a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence against him. It was shut down by Zuma backers who argued that such a vote was a departure from ANC tradition.
NEC member Pule Mabe said if there was a secret ballot, ANC parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe should also be on it.
Mthembu was among the first NEC leaders to speak out against Zuma.
During the meeting, ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile warned NEC members they were dealing with the State of Capture report in the same manner in which they had dealt with the Nkandla report.
The Nkandla saga had resulted in a damaging Constitutional Court judgment before the local government elections in August.
It is understood that Mashatile said the ANC was “handing the opposition a manifesto for 2019”.
The debate began with Hanekom raising Zuma’s recall. He was supported by Motsoaledi, Phaahla, NEC member Fikile Xasa, Mthembu and Godongwana.
It is understood that the stalemate prompted ANC Northern Cape chairman Zemani Saul to propose a compromise.
He suggested that the top six leaders of the party should wrangle over the issue and report back to the NEC at its next meeting.
ANC Free State chairman Ace Magashule called on those ministers who were unhappy with Zuma to resign.
His North West counterpart, Supra Mahumapelo, described the ministers speaking out against Zuma as counter-revolutionaries.
A Zuma supporter said yesterday the president should not hesitate to remove these ministers as trust between them had been broken.
Two sources supporting Zuma said the move to have him recalled was well planned.