ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is having to put out fires in his party as fellow leaders, party structures and the public grow impatient with the pace of talks about Jacob Zuma’s exit from the Union Buildings.
Ramaphosa’s cancellation of Wednesday’s special national executive committee (NEC) meeting, which could have red-carded Zuma, has not gone down well among senior leaders, City Press has learnt.
While some in the ANC top six are said to be furious with a “combative” and “disrespectful” Zuma, Ramaphosa has stuck with the negotiating line as the best way to avoid an “ugly and divisive” transition.
PLEA FOR PATIENCE
On Thursday, he whipped ANC MPs into line, calling on those who phone him or stop him in the corridors to ask for a briefing, to be more disciplined. He told them he is doing his work as party leader and will report back to ANC structures when that work is done.
Insiders told City Press that Ramaphosa has expressed unhappiness with the fact that senior leaders are going around talking about the content of his engagement with Zuma and, in the process, fabricating “untruths”.
He cited as an example speculation that he is brokering a deal to protect Zuma from possible criminal prosecution.
Ramaphosa’s fellow top six officials have joined in his plea for patience.
Speaking at an ANC rally in Mpumalanga yesterday, party chairperson Gwede Mantashe pleaded with ANC members to afford Ramaphosa the space to do his work.
“You must appreciate the value of democratic centralism. This message must go to all members of the ANC. All members of the ANC must appreciate that if the president of the ANC says ’ngilindeni (please wait) I am still talking to President Jacob Zuma’ there is no need to insult him,” Mantashe said.
He hinted that Ramaphosa and Zuma are on the same page regarding the latter’s imminent exit from office.
“Where we want to be, there is no disagreement. That in itself is a good starting point. The tactic is the responsibility of leadership to achieve the same objectives and we must accept it, comrades,” he said.
‘A COMPLEX AND TOUGH PROCESS’
Ramaphosa has to strike a delicate balance between calls for Zuma to be run out of office and allowing him to voluntarily step down.
He is under immense pressure from opposition parties who want to claim the victory of forcing Zuma out through rolling mass action. It is planned for this week in the event that Zuma is still in office by 14:00 tomorrow afternoon. Opposition leaders intend to meet after that deadline to plot the way forward.
Ramaphosa’s defenders said he is “acutely aware of the impatience of South Africans who want him to move quickly, but he doesn’t want Zuma’s exit to be ugly and divisive”.
“He is handling a complex and tough process of getting the country out of a political, economic and social morass with minimum agitation. He has to avoid playing into the hands of those with the appetite for negative mobilisation,” said an NEC member close to Ramaphosa.
“What is important is to get the country going again.”
The senior leader said the idea is to have the state of the nation address (Sona) as soon as possible, ideally this week. If the process is not completed this week because of Zuma’s intransigence, then the NEC will have to come down hard on him next weekend and the Sona will take place the following week.
“Hopefully, it will be concluded by the end of this weekend,” said the leader.
It is expected a mini Cabinet reshuffle will follow Zuma’s exit. But it will not be a wholesale one as he has to “maintain balance” and not make it seem like a purge.
A source close to Ramaphosa said: “There will be six to eight critical portfolios where people will have to move because they are either incapable or compromised by state capture and corruption and where more capable people will be deployed to drive the government’s programme.”
At a tense meeting of the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) on Tuesday, some of the top six, including treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, were furious with Zuma following their Sunday evening meeting with him.
Zuma’s allegedly disrespectful tone – including being angry that the top six arrived late at night when he was about to lock the gates – forced the top six to press for an urgent recall.
But on the eve of the planned special NEC meeting, Ramaphosa gave Zuma a lifeline by pushing the meeting back, citing the fact that the two of them were “making progress”.
According to those close to the process, Zuma’s conditions for stepping down include: state-guaranteed safety for him and his family, his security being maintained at its current level and for the state to pay his legal fees for current and future matters linked to his tenure in government.
The security and legal fees conditions had been described as achievable, except for the “strange” request that he chair his last Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. This did not sit well with Ramaphosa.
The ANC is in a race against time to have the Sona delivered before the end of this coming week. This is likely to be derailed if Zuma is allowed to hang on until Wednesday.
The government is aiming for the national budget to be tabled in time for employers and businesses to adjust their March tax brackets.
CYRIL HOLDS THE ACES
Ramaphosa has been accused of being too lenient on Zuma, whose chief political strategy has been to buy time to frustrate his opponents and only concede at the eleventh hour.
“He did the same thing with Nkandla and when he got to court he said he was always willing to pay. Cyril fell for it,” said a Ramaphosa-aligned ANC insider.
But a high-ranking government official described Ramaphosa as decisive. “You can tell by the change in [Zuma’s] posture between Sunday night and Tuesday night. On Sunday he was sure he had the support of the NWC and the NEC.”
By Tuesday, Zuma was the one tabling proposals, indicating that he had read the signs showing he was powerless, City Press heard.
Said the official: “In the Tuesday night meeting [with Ramaphosa], Zuma agreed that he was going. So there was no need for the NEC to sit on Wednesday to fire him. He had no options open to him other than to negotiate for a dignified exit. All that was left for Cyril to do was manage the complex process and make Zuma’s options clear to him.”
Zuma has three “tracks” to choose from: the ANC track, which would mean subjecting himself to the NEC and NWC and which will lead to his firing; a parliamentary track, which will entail the proposed vote of no confidence or impeachment once the rules are in place; and a negotiation track in which Ramaphosa holds all the aces.
Zuma has realised that “in the NEC we have the numerical majority, in the NWC we have the numerical majority and in [parliamentary] caucus we have the numerical majority”.
A senior leader said Zuma could not renege on his decision to step down, because, if he does, the ANC will push to have its own vote of no confidence, which could be debated before the Economic Freedom Fighters’ vote.
In a leaked audio recording on Thursday, Mashatile tells investors at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town that the top six on Sunday asked Zuma to step down. At the time, the special NEC meeting to recall Zuma was still on the cards until Ramaphosa decided to postpone it because Zuma had “changed tone”.
Mashatile apparently told the special NWC meeting on Monday that he did not want another meeting with Zuma “because he was so combative to the point of insulting them”.
Zuma allegedly called ANC deputy president David Mabuza “wena mfana ndin” (you young man) and had to be called to order.
“How do you respect a person like that one? The ANC is not his property. It is not his home and how dare he speak to ANC leaders like they are coming to ask for his daughters’ hand in marriage at his house,” said the senior leader.
A Ramaphosa lobbyist said that if Zuma has “corruption files” and dirt on other ANC leaders, then he must reveal them and stop making threats to intimidate those who disagree with him. Mabuza has been mentioned among those Zuma has threatened to expose.
An ANC MP said former crime intelligence officers and people close to Zuma’s benefactors are conducting rogue intelligence operations in Durban, targeting those who are vocal against Zuma.
“We are told the plan is to dig up dirt on people to silence them or discredit them in public.”
Another pro-Ramaphosa NEC member said Zuma’s condition that he chair one more Cabinet meeting is strange.
“That day is too far away. Why does he not just call an emergency Cabinet meeting before then? He must say what his plan is with that Cabinet meeting. You can’t just address Cabinet.”
According to constitutional law expert Phephelaphi Dube, legal procedure is as follows:
RESIGNATION OF PRESIDENT
1. This would mean that there is a vacancy in the office of the president and the deputy president becomes the acting president for 30 days, after taking an oath of office.
2. Thereafter, a special sitting of Parliament elects a new president from the House, so the new president must already be an MP.
MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE
1. This is essentially an expression of no confidence in the entire executive, the president, deputy president, Cabinet and deputy ministers.
2. The Speaker of the National Assembly becomes the acting president for 30 days, after taking an oath of office.
3. Thereafter, a special sitting of Parliament will elect a new president from the House, so the new president must already be an MP.