Melanie Verwoerd

So when will President Zuma go?

2016-10-05 05:45

Melanie Verwoerd

The question I am most often asked, is whether  President Jacob Zuma will go? My answer is always: “Yes definitely, but the question is when?” That rarely satisfies my questioners, who get even more frustrated when I respond: “Somewhere between next year and 2019”. Through many such engagements I have come to realise that there is wide-spread confusion about why “we can’t just get rid of him”.

Let me try and explain: We know that the president cannot continue beyond the 2019 elections. That is thankfully guaranteed by the Constitution and the ANC will not in the foreseeable future have a parliamentary majority large enough to amend that provision. The end of the first quarter of 2019 is therefore the outer limit for Jacob Zuma’s rule.

Many people, including ANC members, argue that another two-and-and-a-half years with the current president will not only be disastrous for the country, but also for the ANC. They are therefore hoping for an earlier change in leadership. I am often asked why we can’t “just have a referendum and vote Thuli Madonsela in”. As attractive as that might be, the Constitution simply does not allow it. For Jacob Zuma to go earlier, one of three things needs to happen: The National Assembly has to pass a vote of no-confidence in him, or he has to be convicted of a crime with a minimum 12 months jail sentence without the option of a fine, or lastly, he must resign.

As we saw earlier this year, it is almost impossible with the present makeup of Parliament for a vote of no-confidence in the President to pass. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority and even if every single member of the opposition voted for the motion, it would still require 18 ANC members to vote with the opposition and risk losing their seats. Even though it is increasingly clear that Zuma’s support in the parliamentary caucus is waning, it is highly unlikely that this would ever happen.

The second option requires the President being taken to court, found guilty of a charge or charges and given a sentence of more than 12 months without the option of a fine. He would then no longer be eligible to be a member of the National Assembly and since the Constitution states that the President must be elected by the National Assembly “from among its members” he would no longer be able to occupy the highest office in the land.  For example, should the 783 charges dropped by the NPA in 2009 be re-instated and the President found guilty and sent to prison for a year, he would automatically be removed from office.

I’m not holding my breath, though. The decision whether to prosecute will still take months and the trial, years. Then the matter would go on appeal, which would definitely take us beyond 2019. Of course one would hope and assume that if charges are re-instated that the President would voluntarily resign, or that the ANC would remove the president, which brings me to the third option.

I don’t believe that Zuma has any interest in resigning, certainly not without an amnesty deal when he leaves office. He needs the money and influence the current position provides and so, unless he becomes seriously ill, he will hang on as long as he can. It is, therefore up to the ANC NEC or ANC electoral conference to decide. Right now those who support him in the ANC NEC outnumber those who don’t. So unless something shifts dramatically it will be up to the next ANC electoral conference to bring about change.

This is where things get really interesting as well as worrying. There have been many rumours in the ANC that Zuma would like a third term as ANC president. This is not prohibited by the ANC Constitution. If that happens, we will almost definitely have Jacob Zuma as President of the country until 2019.

It is worthwhile remembering that Thabo Mbeki also wanted a third term, but that did not turn out well for him, so perhaps Zuma will learn from the Polokwane conference and stand down. The crucial question then is who his successor will be. Currently there seem to be at least four serious contenders: Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Zweli Mkize.

I will write a more detailed analysis of the various candidates and their chances in a future column. Suffice to say, that given the push for a female president, Dlamini-Zuma and Mbete have the advantage at the moment. The problem is that if either one of them becomes president of the ANC, it is highly likely that Zuma will stay on as president of the country, given their allegiance and loyalty to him.

There is of course the ANC’s single-head-policy that was agreed to at the 2008-Polokwane conference. It states that the president of the ANC and country should be the same person. However, that decision can easily be changed by a majority of delegates. Given the dominance of the “premier league” that would  not be difficult to achieve.

I am convinced that an early electoral conference will not bring about any positive change in the ANC, which is why certain factions are pushing for it. Many of the provinces and branches are in disarray and that needs to be sorted out first. Then branches  should be given time to mobilise behind other candidates. Since no one has openly declared their interest in the role of ANC president, ordinary members have currently no alternative to mobilise behind. Thankfully, it seems that the support for an earlier conference is waning.

It is worthwhile mentioning that  even if the ANC does ask the president to step down, he is not legally obliged to resign as president of the country. This point was made at the time of Polokwane as well. However, as defiant as he is, I don’t believe that even Jacob Zuma would resist the wishes of a large majority at the ANC electoral conference.

Much of the future of the country will therefore be in the hands of the ANC delegates at the next conference. For many people, who have seen a deterioration in the openness and democratic nature of the ANC and its elections, this is a scary thought.

And, unless we see Hlaudi-like miracles, it seems likely that Jacob Zuma will still be President for a while.

*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and SA Ambassador to Ireland.

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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