Max du Preez

Zuma has reason to start feeling nervous

2017-04-04 08:44
President Jacob Zuma (File, Netwerk24)

President Jacob Zuma (File, Netwerk24)

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So the politician formerly known as Cyril the Cautious has at last decided to put on his boxing gloves and take his boss head-on. The game has just changed.

Jacob Zuma must have known that firing Pravin Gordhan unceremoniously would have triggered fierce public opposition and anger in his party.

But he couldn’t have foreseen the succession of events we’re experiencing right now.

He must have underestimated the levels of resentment nationwide and the willingness of his own comrades to stand up to him.

Zuma has reason to start getting very nervous this morning. He is suddenly very vulnerable and for the first time it appears that there is a possibility, faint though it may be, that he might not survive until the end of the year.

Yesterday’s credit downgrade was certainly predictable, but Zuma either (a) didn’t understand the full implications of it, (b) didn’t care that it was going to deliver a severe body blow to the economy, (c) was under such pressure from his own inner circle and his Gupta associates that he had no choice, or (d) was afraid that he was being perceived as being weak.

But as the downgrade to junk status starts to bite, Zuma will feel the ire of all those affected.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks made at a closed meeting on the weekend are very significant and not something he could take back or explain away.

In slightly coded language he said that the events of the last week was going to trigger a “great renewal” and asked that those leading the renewal should be supported to get rid of the “greedy, corrupt” people in the party.

He was in effect saying that the crisis in the ANC triggered by the firing of Gordhan should be used to finally get rid of Zuma.
With these utterances he was matching the fighting talk of Gordhan and his former deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, both still ANC MPs, and of the two ANC partners in the tripartite alliance, the SACP and Cosatu.

The SACP even went as far as calling on the ANC’s parliamentary caucus to pre-empt an opposition motion of no confidence in Zuma and propose it themselves. It was hard to see ANC MPs voting with the opposition to force the resignation of the president and the government, but suddenly that possibility exists.

Indications are that the ANC’s treasurer-general and former Zuma supporter Zweli Mkhize is also stepping out of the shadows to be an active part of the effort to get rid of the ANC president.

A cautious and rather demure politician, Mkhize stunned the Zuma loyalists when he publicly declared after the Gordhan sacking that Zuma had “left the distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre”.

Mkhize, who had played a critical role to force Zuma to undo the appointment of Des van Rooyen in December 2015, has a strong constituency in the ANC.

The unprecedented wave of public resistance to Zuma started becoming more coherent and organised when all the opposition parties showed a united front yesterday and are partnering with civil society movements to take the protests to heights never seen since 1994.

What we could see over the next few days and weeks is a blurring of the lines between supporters of opposition parties and civil society movements like Save South Africa and ANC dissidents taking to the streets.

Gordhan declared on the weekend that he was unashamedly pleading for mass mobilisation and even said that it didn’t matter what T-shirt people were wearing.

Just a few days ago ANC watchers ran a finger down the list of members of the ANC’s highest organ, the National Executive Committee, and concluded that Zuma had the solid support of at least forty members and that twenty or so more were regarded as being in his camp.

This morning that picture probably looks different as many NEC members are sensing a shift in power and are considering jumping ship. Only the deeply committed or compromised want to be on the losing side.

The deep unhappiness among the struggle aristocracy we witnessed before and again at the memorial service to Ahmed Kathrada surfaced again yesterday when the ANC’s own Integrity Commission under the chairmanship of Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni also demanded that Zuma stepped down.

The pressure can only increase when a second ratings agency downgrades our creditworthiness in the next few days. The impact will be felt almost immediately, first in a weakening rand.

But Zuma is far from being down and out. He still has his hands firmly on the steering wheel of the state and its security machinery and still has strong rural support and the backing of the ANC Youth and Women’s Leagues.

Yet even if he survives until the ANC’s elective conference in December, his chances of then staying on as president of the country are slim.

His preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, must be looking at present developments and seeing her own prospects getting slimmer.

Unless, of course, the resistance peters out and Zuma again succeeds in outfoxing his enemies. Then South Africa is in for a tough time of economic hardship, increasing authoritarianism and instability.

Make sure your seat belts are fastened and check if your airbags are working properly.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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