Ralph Mathekga

Zuma's departure: Smooth transition or grand miscalculation?

2017-09-11 08:04
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Sharlene Rood, News24)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Sharlene Rood, News24)

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Recent developments in the ANC seem to suggest that it is destination Union Buildings for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Reports suggest that she is to be sworn in as a member of Parliament. It was also suggested that she will likely be joining Cabinet.

It would require a Cabinet reshuffle for a position to be available for Dlamini-Zuma. Given that President Jacob Zuma’s last Cabinet reshuffle is currently still the subject of court adjudication, one wonders whether it’s strategic for him to undertake another reshuffle. 

If the president fires a Cabinet minister with the clear intention of creating a position for Dlamini-Zuma, it might spark a serious mutiny by his detractors, especially those who believe he is preparing to steal the December elective conference in order to install his preferred successor.

While conditions are such that Zuma should not be too adventurous, the reality is that he is working in a very tight timeframe and things need to get done, no matter what.

Among some of the things that are on Mr. Zuma’s to-do list is to start working towards a point where Dlamini-Zuma is accepted by the general public as president of the country. It’s all about planting an idea and waiting for it to flourish.

This work is carried out at the same time that Zuma’s allies are working hard to convince ANC members of the viability of Dlamini-Zuma as a leader of the party. Upon her return from the African Union (AU) she did not join government, which afforded her some time to spend on the road building a rapport with ANC members.

Of course, some are saying that during her tenure as the AU chair, Dlamini-Zuma spent much of her time in South Africa instead of Addis Ababa. I thought it was strategic to keep her out of government at first so she could focus on her campaign.

By serving in Cabinet, Dlamini-Zuma will be taking on the fight on her own. She will be confronting another frontrunner in Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also using his position as deputy president of the country to show how he will carry himself if he is elected to lead the ANC, and subsequently the country.

Ramaphosa is gaining more legitimacy as a potential president. The surge in his legitimacy – despite scandals about extra-marital affairs – might have worried Zuma’s camp to a point where an urgent intervention became necessary.

If Dlamini-Zuma wins the ANC leadership contest in December, Zuma will happily bid everyone goodbye after the conference. There will be no need for him to subject himself to further humiliation in Parliament.

If Ramaphosa wins, Zuma will also have to leave. One way or another, he must be thinking of different departure scenarios.

The reason he will be willing to take the risk and reshuffle his Cabinet is because he himself will be reshuffled if he leaves too much to chance at the elective conference. He has to act now and consolidate his position, or else a decision will be made for him regarding how he leaves office.

If Dlamini-Zuma is sworn in as a member of Parliament, and subsequently as a Cabinet minister, she will face off with a growing number of ANC mutineers stationed in the legislature.  

Quite a number of ANC MPs have had it with their party and they are not willing to stay quiet about their misgivings on Zuma’s leadership.

These are the people that Dlamini-Zuma can count on to give her a tough time when she visits Parliament as a member of Cabinet. Appointing her to Cabinet is a very risky but worthy move in that it could further increase her fortunes to lead the country, unless a serious revolt within the ANC breaks out.

The stakes are high. Zuma wants a smooth transition amidst turbulence in his party. He has limited moves left, and it is clear that he will make those moves. 

- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes. 

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Read more on:    nkosazana ­dlamini-zuma  |  jacob zuma  |  anc leadership race  |  politics 2017  |  anc
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