Zuma sidesteps threat to leadership with wily political manoeuvring
South Africans’ dream of an early Zexit were dashed yesterday as President Jacob Zuma firmly cemented his ANC and South African presidency by calling in a series of IOUs, according to commentators.
He also apologised on Tuesday to the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) over party officials’ handling of his cabinet reshuffle
Days of intense and surprising criticism of Zuma by ANC top-six members over his cabinet reshuffle and firing of finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, have now effectively been silenced.
Zuma’s apology caught his opponents and detractors off guard, as the NWC meeting papered over the deep cracks in the ANC that have spilled over into the public domain.
The party’s national officials – the top six of Zuma, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and chairwoman Baleka Mbete – met until the early hours of Tuesday, ahead of the sitting of the extended working committee in Johannesburg, where their approach was discussed.
Sources who attended the Tuesday meeting told Business Day that Zuma’s apology, on behalf of the officials for their conduct, including his own, had tamed what could have been a potentially explosive NWC.
Now the success of a planned motion of no confidence parliamentary debate, which many believed would be supported by ANC MPs, is being questioned.
The debate is scheduled for April 18.
The silencing of internal dissent has resulted in a sudden aboutturn by the ANC’s Integrity Commission, which had called on Monday for Zuma’s resignation.
Yesterday, Mantashe, a vocal critic of Zuma’s reshuffle, presented a “united” ANC to the country.
He addressed the media at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters. His announcement that the public disagreement was a mistake saw South Africa’s bond market weaken, with the rand losing 1.29% against the US dollar.
It was the NWC that Zuma had used to secure his support, political analysts said.
Alex van Heever, from the Wits School of Governance, said South Africans should not depend on the ANC for an early Zexit.
“It now depends on how active South Africa’s larger society is,” he said.
“The ANC and government will need to be made to move by society.
“People need to reassert themselves in the way which led to democracy in 1994.
“Society must stand up, especially to protect the electoral process, which faces a very real threat of being targeted, especially as the integrity of the state is questioned.”
Political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki said Zuma was a clever political strategist.
“This [shoring up of support] has been years in the making,” Mbeki said.
“It comes from the ANC’s Polokwane elective conference. “The problem is no one has really looked at what’s happening on the ground in the ANC and especially in its electorate.
“The reality is that Zuma has complete control of the ANC.”
He said that at Polokwane Zuma had come to power through the SA Communist Party, the unions, women’s league and the youth league.
“Soon after he was elected, those who had brought him to power started to disagree with his policies,” he said.
“All he did – like he has done now – was silence those critics, especially the leaders.
“His strategy was to out-manoeuvre and demobilise those who put him in power.
“When the Mangaung elective conference came, he pushed people into positions.
“It’s these people who are now answerable to him.”
He said those affected by the latest cabinet purge were the remnants of those he had used to take out his critics after Polokwane.
“Now in the NWC, Zuma has supporters who are answerable to him.
“He is in full control of the ANC on the way to its next elective conference and will ensure his supporters are elected.”
On the backtracking of Mantashe, Ramaphosa and Mkhize, Mbeki said they had no constituency from which to operate.
“Zuma . . . has virtually all the constituencies in his pocket,” he said.
“The unions have been left virtually worthless, with the provincial branches which disagree with him, gutted.
“Zuma knows Mkhize, Ramaphosa and Mantashe can say whatever they like because when he raps them over the knuckles they have to toe the line.
“Zuma knows that by turning a blind eye to his supporters’ minor misdemeanours, he controls them.”
Political analyst Keith Gottschalk said Zuma had definitely won so far.
“How long he will carry on winning, who knows. One definitely sees every outcry against him getting louder, which didn’t happen previously,” he said.
“Zuma has not silenced his critics, but what he has done is outvote, outflank and out-manoeuvre them.”
His target now would be to ensure, through new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, that his men were appointed to positions to oversee the Treasury’s new centralised tender board, which Gordhan established to help prevent corruption.
“The first thing to look out for are nuclear, SAA and Transnet contracts,” Gottschalk said.
Asked if Zuma would remain president, Mantashe said it was a “loaded question”.
“He is the president of the ANC,” he said. – The Times and Business Day, with Genevieve Quintal