Zuma Watch

Zuma’s departure: Recall or Exit Plan?

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Not the if, but the when, and the how, of Jacob Zuma vacating the position of President of country has become the most important take-away from of the ANC’s 54th national conference.

The second most important take-away is that the ANC’s days as primarily a ‘liberation movement’ is finally something of the past and its new leader is confronted with the challenge to transform the organisation into a modern political party in a democratic society in the full sense of the word.

Looked at in a holistic context, the big positive from the conference’s outcome is that it constitutes a victory for democracy in South Africa, with the constant overriding question present at the conference: “What does the party need to do to survive in government after the 2019 general election?”

The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC was also an important symbolic event – a symbolism missed by most commentators; Ramaphosa is the first leader of the ANC not to come from the ‘old guard” ranks of former political exiles or Robben Island prisoners, but from the generation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

The MDM in the early 1990’s coordinated the internal liberation efforts of the UDF and trade union movements and played a pivotal role in providing the ANC with organisational infrastructure on the ground in the build-up to the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Ramaphosa was a key leader in those developments.

As someone who also proved himself a capable businessman, Ramaphosa is probably the best available to the ANC to lead them during the final transition from liberation politics to party politics.

Zuma resistance

Probably realising that Zuma will not just give up the position of absolute power he has enjoyed over the last almost decade, - and the fact that he is to maintain  the centre of attention in pending corruption/state capture investigations – the ANC at its conference came with some moves to effectively clip his wings. It passed a resolution that   the party's national executive committee (NEC) be its centre of power.

Fikile Mbalula, another member of the new generation of internal resistance leaders, on behalf of the conference’s commission on strategy and tactics, told the media it was concluded that the NEC would decide whether to remove Zuma and appoint an integrity committee which will make decisions that are binding.

Asked about the two centres of power – with Zuma as head of government and Ramaphosa leader of the party – Mbalula said the relationship must be managed by the NEC. He also linked the present situation with the one to when the Polokwane conference of 2007 saw Zuma elected as ANC president while Thabo Mbeki was state president.

Maybe foreseeing a conflict between the ‘two centres of power,’ there was also a resolution to give the party's integrity committee more "biting" powers. It will no longer have to seek approval from the NEC before calling members to account. In December 2016 the committee called on Zuma to resign, however, he refused.

In its closing statement of the conference the ANC committed to the people of South Africa that “we shall isolate and root out corrupt tendencies in the public and private sectors”.

Apart of the judicial commission of inquiry of into state capture, finally set to start its work early in 2018, and a string corruption charges against Zuma, the conference also adopted a resolution for the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate allegations that public institutions have been looted and that private companies and individuals have gained undue influence over the state.

Officials who have facilitated or been involved in graft will immediately be removed from their posts and face prosecution. Stolen funds will be recovered and deposited in a special fund that will be used for youth training and employment.

This commitment was in line with Ramaphosa’s election campaign, promising the rooting out of corruption.

In his maiden speech as new leader of the ANC, at the end of the conference Ramaphosa launched a thinly veiled attack on his predecessor alluding that under his administration the ANC would not be a party of words but a party of action.

"Those who are deployed by our movement should always be a source of pride and not a source of embarrassment. They are deployed so that they can bring us closer to the national democratic society to which we aspire," he said.

He also highlighted that the party had given its integrity commission teeth to make binding decisions. Ramaphosa also said actions of comrades who are deployed to government should always be informed by the interests of its members and not by personal interests.

Negotiated exist?

In recent times there were rumours and some indications that a “negotiated,” dignified exit from office by Zuma might have been on the cards. At the closing of the conference there was no indication of such a move.

The moment for such a move seems to have passed. Ramaphosa would also find it difficult to reconcile any deal implying some sort of amnesty for Zuma with his promise to root out corruption.

A future in which he finally sees his day in court seems to have become unavoidable for President Zuma.

And, the final show-down could come pretty soon, since work on the traditional annual ANC 8th of January statement, to be delivered by the ANC leader, should be just about be in progress as we write, with the next crucial date short on its heels, being the opening of Parliament a month later on the 8th of February.

by Piet Coetzer

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