Ever wily Zuma making plans

2014-08-15 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma, the ever wily strategist, is appearing to position his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor as leader of the country and the party.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is in real danger of being outmanoeuvred by Zuma, just like Kgalema Motlanthe, who, although he was former deputy president of the ANC and South Africa, and therefore assumed to be next in line to become the president of the country and party, was elbowed out by the chief from Nkandla.

Zuma’s shrewd comments last week, that South Africa is “ready” for a woman president, should be taken as a clear sign of his intent to elevate Dlamini-Zuma into the ANC and country’s presidency.

As if it was choreographed, Dlamini-Zuma, on the sidelines of the recent U.S.-Africa Summit, coyly suggested that she was “undecided” about standing for another term as chairperson of the African Union when her term expires in 2016.

Zuma supported Ramaphosa’s election as his deputy at the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012, mostly to neutralise temporarily his then rival Motlanthe, and to appease anxious rank-and-file ANC members and supporters, worried that the waves of scandals washing over the president were threatening to undermine the “electability” and credibility of the ANC. As he tries to manage his own succession in a way that will advantage his personal, political and financial fortunes, two things appear to weigh on Zuma. Firstly, how can he escape prosecution from the mountain of allegations of corruption? Secondly, how can he secure the financial interests of his large family, after leaving the protection of presidential office? Most of Zuma’s personal fortune has been made through the state.

A hostile successor could allow the law to take its course and insist that Zuma respond to all of the allegations of impropriety in court, and even investigate the sources of the Zuma family’s wealth —and given that it is mostly related to the state, demand some of proceeds to be returned to the state.

As his second term comes to an end, the president is realising that his many enemies within and outside the ANC are just waiting for the moment he leaves office to seek retribution, in the same way he ruthlessly dealt with Thabo Mbeki. Unfortunately for Zuma, as sitting president he cannot enact a new law indemnifying himself from prosecution post-presidency. Only a successor can do that.

Many old allies of Ramaphosa still believe that Zuma helped plot his removal as successor to Nelson Mandela in the mid-nineties. Zuma may fear that Ramaphosa still nurses a grudge. The Gauteng provincial ANC — hostile to Zuma — is now pushing for Ramaphosa to take over from the president. Zuma may reckon that his ex-wife, Dlamini-Zuma, is unlikely to drag him to court.

As important, from a strategic point of view, Zuma may believe that bringing a woman into the presidency would give him renewed credibility as the ANC leader who championed the first woman leader in the party’s history. A woman becoming the ANC leader may also counter cries by Ramaphosa’s supporters that he has an automatic right to take over from Zuma as the deputy.

However, Zuma’s strategy of making his ex-wife succeed him may backfire, in that it may be too much for non-KwaZulu-Natal ANC supporters, who may object to what may appear as Zuma turning the ANC and government into a family business. For such responses, Zuma has another trump card — Baleka Balete, the speaker of Parliament.

Zuma’s need for protection beyond the presidency, his apparent suspicion of Ramaphosa and the possibility of a backlash against a Dlamini-Zuma coronation, have emboldened other Zuma allies. ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize all appear to rate their chances of succeeding Zuma.

They may reckon all they need to do is to persuade Zuma that they can be trusted to grant him immunity from prosecution and protect the family’s and allies’ business interests.

Time is running out for Ramaphosa. To outwit his rivals, he may have to promise Zuma that he will protect his personal, political and financial interests, and secure him immunity from prosecution, and may even, perhaps, consider making a voluntary financial contribution to the president, say R10 billion (no sweat to the billionaire) to ease any possible post-presidential financial worries.

• William Gumede is author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times, Tafelberg.

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