President Jacob Zuma’s future as ANC president was left hanging by a thread after Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom stunned Zuma and his backers when he tabled a motion for him to step down at the national executive committee (NEC) meeting yesterday.
Late last night, the meeting had been adjourned with the discussion around a vote deferred to today, the last day of the NEC sitting.
City Press has learnt that those set on removing Zuma were lobbying for a secret ballot to determine the president’s fate. A secret ballot could be the nail in Zuma’s coffin as it would empower those who fear a backlash.
Yesterday’s decision to defer voting came as some objected to any vote last night taking place in the absence of many NEC members, who had been attending Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina’s wedding in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
The NEC has always been considered a safe space for Zuma as it was believed his supporters dominate the structure.
Fierce fight back
However, his backers were blindsided by the motion.
But they launched a fierce fight back with the hopes that the matter would not even get as far as voting on Sunday.
They aim to squash it even before voting takes place, which could see Zuma live another day.
“The secret ballot is not a done deal. We won’t let it go down without a fight,” said a pro-Zuma NEC member.
This fierce battle to force a defiant Zuma out comes a day after the ANC’s stalwarts persuaded the party’s national working committee (NWC) to table a proposal for a soul-searching national consultative conference to be held as early as June.
This conference will double up as a policy conference.
Insiders said there had been a discreet lobby to table the motion of no confidence ahead of the scheduled NEC meeting.
“There was a lot of lobbying even at lunch. The issue is that people can’t defend the indefensible,” said a senior ANC leader.
“A lot of people didn’t attend, but some left because they didn’t want to be accused of having been part of the cabal that removed Zuma. They didn’t want to nail their colours to the mast.”
Still an ace up Zuma's sleeve
Former governor of the SA Reserve Bank and NEC member Tito Mboweni tweeted on Friday: “And those who abuse power, abuse our trust, shall soon be taught that you are not boss of the people but their servant. Time to go!!”
Key considerations during lobbying to propose removing Zuma included whether they would get sufficient numbers from other NEC members and concerns were raised on whether those who were government ministers would support it since they are on Zuma’s pay cheque.
The embattled president still has an ace up his sleeve in the form of a Cabinet reshuffle. Those ministers who support Zuma’s axing open themselves up to be booted out.
Some NEC members had been informally considering the management of Zuma’s exit.
A suggestion has been made that he remain for another six months – until the consultative conference in June. But some say this is a way to delay the matter.
Those calling for the exit to be immediate believe that a logical step is for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to be caretaker president of the ANC. This a view supported by the majority of Cosatu affiliates, who this week endorsed Ramaphosa ahead of next year’s elective conference.
City Press understands that the motion sent Zuma loyalists – who were not present at the meeting – into a tailspin, with some immediately hopping on to flights from various provinces to the meeting in a bid to squash an unfavourable outcome.
Some known loyalists not present on Saturday included: Nomvula Mokonyane, Malusi Gigaba, Njabulo Nzuza, Collen Maine and Fikile Mbalula.
On Saturday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe alluded to a difficult discussion while briefing the media, saying the jury was still out on the status of the State of Capture report by the former Public Protector, which alleges that there is a corrupt relationship between Zuma and his close friends the Guptas.
“All members of the NEC have been given a copy of the state capture report. They are talking about it. So I don’t know what the end of that will be,” Mantashe said at around lunchtime.
The tabling of the report in the NEC is believed to have provided ammunition for Zuma’s opponents to launch the attack.
“Watch out. Watch this space,” a senior NEC member told City Press ahead of the weekend sitting.
NEC members are said to have been emboldened by the actions of veterans who met with the NWC on two occasions this week.
This week, Mantashe also confirmed that Zuma would appear before the party’s integrity commission on December 3, but would not divulge what would be discussed.
At an ANC cadres forum last week in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma was scathing about the veterans, saying that he last saw some of them just after 1994 when they left the movement to pursue other interests.
He said that they had clearly forgotten how things were done in the ANC.
He also criticised them for running to the media instead of going to the ANC with their grievances.
However, he sang a different tune when he conceded at the meeting on Monday with veterans that their concerns were valid.
Zuma told the veterans that he agreed with their analysis about the crises in the ANC as presented and contained in their letter addressed to him, but had asked that a way forward be found.
He also asked the meeting that the request for the special consultative conference be considered.
Those who spoke on behalf of the veterans included Professor Stan Sangweni, Siphiwe Nyanda, Albertina Luthuli and Rashaka Ratshitanga, who mentioned the need to unify the already divided ANC and to root out corruption and resolve the leadership crisis.
However, Zuma is said to have angered the veterans when he used the opportunity to make a mockery of the Nkandla scandal, saying the veterans were too quick to talk about issues they didn’t understand.
City Press has reliably learnt that warning shots were fired by some members of the party’s top six at the four-hour NWC meeting.
Insiders have painted a picture of the first meeting of the two parties as being frank and robust, with Mantashe and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, admonishing the stalwarts for “behaving like they were not part of the ANC”.
They were among those in the meeting who expressed disappointment with the veterans’ decision to hang the ANC’s dirty linen out in public.
“They said if the ANC leadership lost in 2019, it might be because veterans were behaving like Gauteng ANC leaders who were just doing their own thing.”
But on Saturday Mantashe said that it would be wrong to blame the veterans for a negative electoral performance.
“There is no such thing. We are engaging with them and we want to get them involved in the work of the ANC.”