'Isolated' Zuma fought until the last minute

2018-02-18 00:01
President Jacob Zuma. (Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg)

President Jacob Zuma. (Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg)

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WATCH: Report Card: The Zuma era and decline in public confidence

2018-02-16 12:39

In the eyes of South Africans, former President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year tenure, which ended late on Valentine’s Day, was marked by declining popular trust and lacklustre performance. Watch. WATCH

It took hours of persuasion from lawyers, family members and senior ANC leaders on Wednesday to convince then-president Jacob Zuma that his time was up and that he had to vacate office, City Press has learnt.

For the most part of Wednesday, all indications were that Zuma was prepared to go to the brink on the matter.

“He was consulting lawyers and they told him that he must just let it go because he could not win,” insiders said.

His family members gave their input and all of them were “appealing to him to let it go”.

Given that Zuma still exercised enormous power, Luthuli House was on the alert. Each word of his interview with the SABC earlier in the day was scrutinised to try and anticipate his next move.

His comment that he used to deploy soldiers, according to an ANC insider, was seen as a subtle hint that “he is not a civilian and is in fact a commander in chief, albeit of a guerilla army, and that his forces were at the ready to defend him”.

Similar fears were expressed in the ANC’s top echelons in 2008, when the party fired Thabo Mbeki as president.

But as the day progressed, it became clearer that nothing could save Zuma, bar a public protest in his defence.

“If any protest action had begun, he could have declared a state of emergency,” said a source.

'Clear he had been isolated'

But when he concluded the SABC interview, not one of his usual defenders – the ANC’s youth and women’s leagues and the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association – issued a statement in his support.

“It was clear that he had been isolated.”

In the absence of public dissent or firm legal grounds to block the ANC from recalling him, Zuma could only play for time. But the dominant view in the ANC top six was that “you cannot keep an angry man with total control of state power in office for one more day”.

Although he told the nation that he changed tack after realising that a “rough” approach during the meeting with the ANC officials did not foster unity, key players in Luthuli House like treasurer-general Paul Mashatile had already run out of patience to the point that they had given up on talking to him.

It was also Mashatile who flanked ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu earlier on Wednesday when they made an unprecedented announcement that the ANC will move for a motion of no confidence against one of its most senior leaders.

Party treasurer Paul Mashatile and chief whip Jackson Mthembu earlier on Wednesday made the unprecedented announcement that the ANC would hold a motion of no confidence against its leader.

City Press heard that the four-hour delay behind Zuma’s expected resignation announcement was his attempt to buy time. He wanted to know what the party’s parliamentary caucus had said about the proposal to vote with the opposition and remove him from office.

According to those who attended the meeting, only one person, deputy communications minister Tandi Mahambehlala, tried to defend him.

'ANC cannot be divided'

Around 2pm, Zuma gave his exclusive interview to the SABC. In it, he complained that the ANC was being “unfair” because the caucus had not waited for him to make his announcement, but had already concluded plans for a motion of no confidence.

“When he later resigned, his speech was so disjointed that the bulk of the content suggested he was not going to resign. Most of it was a sanitised version of the SABC interview. It is like the last part was added to the real speech.”

At least four ANC leaders told City Press that efforts to block Zuma’s recall started last month, when hundreds of amabutho (Zulu warriors) marched in Durban and vowed to defend Msholozi.

“That march was used to mobilise support in anticipation that a recall was looming.”

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini allegedly put the brakes on the mobilisation of amabutho weeks later, when he summoned Zuma to a meeting, according to two independent sources.

A Ramaphosa lobbyist said Zuma had significant clout in KwaZulu-Natal, as he had negotiated peace among warlords in the province during the democratic transition.

“So the threat could not be taken lightly,” said the source.

The source said they were worried about talks that the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal would hold “welcome back celebrations” for Zuma when he returned home.

“Welcome him back from where? We hope that it was not all talk and that he will be true to his word when he said that the ANC cannot be divided in his name.”


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