Max du Preez

Why can't Zuma be 'Thabo-ed'?

2016-03-08 07:33

Max du Preez

President Jacob Zuma cannot afford to fire defiant Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, however much he wants to. The ANC Top Six believes it would be unwise to unseat Zuma at this point.

And now a third compromise option is becoming more attractive: let Zuma stay on as president for now, perhaps until the leadership elections in 2017, but get him to take his hands off the controls of government.

Several branches of the SACP and ANC have in recent weeks demanded explanations from Luthuli House why Zuma could not be “Thabo-ed”.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe explained to one such local structure that it would harm the party if such a step were to be taken now, especially with the local elections looming. But he left his listeners with the distinct impression that he would be in favour of such a step at some stage.

Other senior ANC leaders have explained to unhappy members that the situation was “fluid” and that the party should wait for the Constitutional Court to give its verdict in the Nkandla case and the North Gauteng High Court in the case of the dropped criminal charges.

If both these judgments are damning to Zuma and the ANC loses support at the local elections, the argument goes, a situation could arise where it would be possible to ask Zuma to voluntarily withdraw from the presidency.

Meanwhile there is a growing group inside the ANC that believes that if Zuma is going to stay on for now, he should be pressured into agreeing to step back and allow his deputy and the Cabinet to govern the country and safeguard the fragile economy.

Last week Zuma again made dangerous statements on the economy, but stopped himself mid-sentence and said he should rather stop talking: “I’ve got Nkandla economy”, he said.

A key figure in the power tussle around Zuma is the ANC’s treasurer, Zweli Mkhize. His political background and positioning suggest that he should be a Zuma man, but he did play an important role in December last year to persuade Zuma to move Des van Rooyen aside and appoint Gordhan as finance minister.

Mkhize was last week used to reassure investors at a high-powered meeting that the conflict between Gordhan and Sars chief Tom Moyane would be resolved soon. (Tip: don’t put your money on Moyane.)

Perhaps it will eventually be up to Mkhize to soft-soap Zuma into retiring to Nkandla permanently.

Gordhan told business leaders last week that his main mission was to prevent a downgrade of the economy to junk status. He believes his budget was a good start, but said that he was fighting for enough political support to execute the undertakings and plans described in the budget.

The revelation last week of a dynamite dossier in the Sars safe on Zuma and his super-wealthy friends’ financial affairs and the question of donations tax made big waves inside the ANC. A senior Luthuli House figure apparently remarked that the dossier was “in the bank” and would only be used when it really mattered.

But those in the ANC who feel that Zuma should not be allowed to ruin the economy and the country any further know that the contents of the explosive Sars dossier and similar damning information are being guarded over by their most formidable foe and Zuma’s strongest defender: the minister of state security, David Mahlobo and his intelligence machinery.

Writer Fred Khumalo has called Mahlobo Zuma’s “insila”, in Zulu tradition “the guy who covers for the main man”.

Mahlobo is the strongman in the government’s “security cluster, a cabinet-within-a-cabinet consisting of the ministers of state security, police, defence, justice and home affairs. The security cluster is Zuma’s version of PW Botha’s State Security Council and its National Security Management System during the last dark years of apartheid - only, the military had the upper hand then while under Zuma it doesn’t serve in the security cluster.

David Mbangiseni Mahlombo, 44, worked as a bureaucrat in Mpumalanga where he was a close ally of premier David Mabuza and his lobby group with the premiers of the Free State and North West, the Premier League. He was handpicked by Zuma and appointed as minister in May 2014, and a few months later in a controversial Zuma move he became a member of the ANC national working committee.

Within a few months Mahlobo fired three top intelligence officials: Dennis Dlomo, Simon Ntombela and Nozuko Bam, and replaced them with more fervent Zuma loyalists. A newspaper report at the time quoted a senior ANC leader as saying the order to fire the three came directly from the president.

It was Mahlobo who declared last year that the state security agency was investigating whether Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, EFF leader Julius Malema and AMCU president Joseph Matunjwa were CIA agents. Nothing ever came of the “investigation”. He has also ordered that prominent NGOs like Right2Know and the Southern African Litigation Centre be monitored.

Mahlobo’s heavy hand can be seen at the Hawks, the police, the national prosecuting authority and Sars. He was closely involved in the “restructuring” of the senior Sars leadership when Moyane took over.

Many ANC leaders on different levels who can be considered outside the Zuma camp believe that Mahlobo and his men monitor their movements, meetings and conversations and keep files on them.

Let’s not forget: Zuma himself was head of ANC intelligence in the years before the ANC was unbanned and returned from exile.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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