Zuma Watch

How can Zuma be dislodged, if at all?

What will happen?

For months now, as the political pressure on the ANC over the Nkandla scandal intensified, speculation has been rife that President Jacob Zuma’s second term as president could be cut short. Yet, as the ANC closes ranks behind him, it seems ever less likely to happen soon.

Closing ranks and doing damage control might on the surface seem aimed at protecting Mr Zuma. In reality, it is far more about protecting the party and its 2016 municipal elections prospects. But for now, keeping Mr Zuma in office seems to suit the ANC better than getting rid of him. He also still commands enormous support in the party’s structures.

Given the ANC’s large majority in parliament, likely to remain in place for some time, only the ANC can remove him from office – if and when it should so decide.

Mechanisms available

The most powerful component of the ANC’s organisational structure and the key organ for recalling a member serving as president, or in any other public office on the grounds of “no longer being fit for office,” is the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC). It is the highest decision-making body between national conferences.

It consists of 100 members made up of: six national officials; 80 additional elected members; and up to 18 ex-officio members, two from each of the nine provinces and three leagues unless already elected onto the NEC as ordinary members. The NEC may also co-opt up to five members.

An NEC quorum is 50% members plus one and all decisions are taken by a majority vote. Theoretically it is thus possible for an NEC meeting of 51 members to recall the president if 27 of those present so vote.

In terms of the ANC’s constitution the NEC’s functions and powers include:

• To supervise and direct the functioning of the ANC and all its organs, including national, provincial and local government caucuses, giving it sway over party’s parliamentary caucus; and

• It may convene both a special national conference on request of a majority of provincial structures or a National General Council (NGC), both having the power to recall a serving public official, including the president;

Formally, in terms of the country’s constitution parliament elects from its own ranks the president, who then within five days of assuming office ceases to be an MP.

The National Assembly (NA) can also by a motion adopted with a two thirds majority remove the president from office on the grounds of a serious violation of the constitution or the law; serious misconduct; or inability to perform the functions of office.

If the president is removed or is otherwise unable to fulfil his/her duties, the deputy president, or a designated minister, or the speaker (in that order of precedence) must fill the vacancy until a new president is elected by parliament within 30 days.

In theory there are the following possibilities:

• The ANC’s NEC by majority vote decide to recall Mr Zuma;
• The NEC is instructed by the upcoming NGC scheduled for 26 to 29 June 2015 to do so;
• The NEC requests Mr Zuma to resign and if he refuses, may officially recall him on the grounds of being unfit for office; and
• The NEC then mandates the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, to instruct the ANC’s parliamentary chief whip and caucus to table a motion in the NA to remove the president from office.

All steps in this scenario assume majority support in all these ANC organs for Mr Zuma’s removal.

Even if subjected to a disciplinary hearing on whatever grounds in order to suspend him from the ANC and set in motion the removal process, it would happen through the NEC, which is charged with ordering such hearings to be conducted by an NEC sub-committee.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was removed from office almost a year after he had been replaced by Mr Zuma as ANC president at the 2007 national conference.

In September 2008 the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed corruption charges against Mr Zuma on procedural grounds. There were also allusions in the ruling about possible political interference by Mr Mbeki and others, and the NEC said it had lost trust in him and would not support him in parliament.

The NEC recalled Mr Mbeki, he tendered his resignation to parliament and with Mr Zuma’s behind the scenes support Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, then ANC deputy president and an ordinary MP, became the caretaker president until Mr Zuma’s election as president after the 2009 general election.

So which way will the ANC move now?

A casual, and by no means definitive, assessment of the composition of the current NEC suggests that up to about 73 out the 100 NEC members probably still back Mr Zuma; about 15 could go either way; and only about 12 are likely to vote against him.

The ANC probably does not want more Zuma-related controversies to harm its election prospects just short of 20 months before the municipal elections. Even less will it want to engage in a messy and highly public ejection of Mr Zuma that could trigger factional battles and messy, divisive succession struggles.

Which way it will go, depends on which option seems the least harmful at any given time.

The NEC probably called next year’s NGC to strategise and prepare for the 2016 municipal elections. The NEC determines the composition of NGCs but delegates are likely to represent branches and provincial structures. The NEC may still back Mr Zuma for now, but then the majority of NGC delegates could well feel differently.

If neither the NEC nor the NGC removes Mr Zuma, the next opportunity will be the 2017 national conference. If he survives that, he will serve out his term until the general election in 2019.

Obviously, Mr Zuma could depart centre stage anytime before 2019. There are signs that a succession race may already have started. As would-be candidates start emerging, new alliances and loyalties will emerge and the balance of forces could well shift rapidly, and ousting him could suddenly become more attractive.

Already, there are those increasingly fed up with his antics. He made potential enemies in recent years, such as Gauteng ANC leader Paul Mashatile (demoted and side-lined for supporting Kgalema Motlanthe for ANC president), Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa (sent packing because they opposed Zuma on the ANC Youth League under Julius Malema among other things), and Beki Cele, (sacked as police commissioner after tender irregularities).

There are also some Mbeki supporters who have never forgiven Mr Zuma. Not all of them still serve on the NEC, but could influence serving NEC members and structures in their home provinces.

The extent to which he can retain support in the provinces could be a key factor, with the 2017 national conference potentially a turning point if Mr Zuma becomes even more of a liability.

And there are signs of shifts. Gauteng has been openly opposed to Zuma for some time; even in his home powerbase of KwaZulu-Natal signs of some dissent or divisions have emerged; the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape might be divided; and in North West and Limpopo there are relatively strong anti-Zuma pockets. Only the Free State and Mpumalanga seem to be solidly pro-Zuma.

Realising that succession will soon be a reality, there are also those aspiring to be the new king-makers and those seeking influence in the new patronage structure, depending on whom they assume to be the strongest candidate.

Also to be considered, is the influence of the three ANC leagues and their representatives on the NEC and the influence of the governing alliance partners, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU).

Mr Zuma has effectively purged the ANCYL of opponents; the Women’s League is largely in his camp; and the Veterans’ League, despite some dissent, is also on his side.

The SACP remains one of his most ardent backers, regarding him as its best shot at fast-tracking policy shifts to the left and having increased representation in government. COSATU is divided down the middle.


There are also factors that can suddenly change Mr Zuma’s prospects to hang on to office:

• Possible negative outcomes of a court review of the public protector’s Nkandla report, related Public Works disciplinary hearings and the civil claim against his Nkandla architect;

• Further legal developments around the spy tapes; and

• Opposition parties resorting to the Constitutional Court over the Nkandla affair.

On the balance of probabilities, despite the complex uncertainties and variables involved, at present it does not seem likely that Mr Zuma will be vacating the centre of the political stage anytime soon. Then again, a week can be long time in politics, and can deliver dramatic change.

by Stef Terblanche

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