President Cyril Ramaphosa must be very worried about developments this morning that his ANC deputy David Mabuza has postponed taking up his position as deputy president of the country.
Many people are celebrating, saying this paves the way for Ramaphosa to appoint his preferred deputy president and Cabinet.
But what might feel like relief now might come back to bite Ramaphosa very soon.
We all know by now that Ramaphosa does not enjoy the entire confidence of his party and events like this might mean that not only does he not get a second term as ANC president, but he does not even complete his term as president of the country.
How Ramaphosa manages Mabuza’s temporary stepping down will determine what happens to him.
The ANC announced this morning that it had received a request to postpone Mabuza’s swearing-in as a member of the National Assembly and, therefore, as a deputy president.
Mabuza made the request in light of a report by the ANC’s integrity commission in which he is alleged to have prejudiced the integrity of the ANC as well as bringing it into disrepute.
Ramaphosa has commended him for putting the interests of the ANC first.
Mabuza first sounded the alarm when he told City Press in an interview a month ago that he was ready to quit his position as deputy president should the cloud around him continue.
He said if the commission’s reasons were strong, he would be prepared to withdraw his name from the elections list because he believed no one should resist a convincing argument.
In its report, the integrity commission raised the question of credibility and harming the reputation of the ANC as the main reasons it recommended 22 controversial candidates be removed from the ANC list.
Among the names were Nomvula Mokonyane, who has announced that she would not accept nomination for the position as House chairperson in Parliament because she is still in mourning after the death of her husband.
Mabuza, who rarely grants interviews, told City Press that the ANC’s ethics monitoring body had “singled out a few comrades to say they want to interview those comrades, and on the basis of that interview, probably they will make their own conclusions”.
“I am sure it will make its views known to say what is its collective response. I do not think there is anyone who is really insisting to be on the list, as long as they [the commission] explain why they are making certain assertions.”
In the same interview, he warned that the demons of disunity were back in the ANC.
“Every day in the news you hear about us. We are fighting and we are going to courts. It hurts the ANC. Someone from the ANC is saying something about the other.”
He said his message to the governing party was: “Get your house in order. If you do not do that, you run the risk of killing this ANC.”
I venture to say that this warning was quite ominous.
Ramaphosa would be well advised to remember the events in 2005 when the then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma also withdrew from his position because of the controversy that arose after his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption.
At the subsequent national general council, ANC branches mobilised and fought back for Zuma to be reinstated to his position.
This was the first organised fightback that former president Thabo Mbeki had faced as ANC president.
Mbeki was to later say that the branches had been misled into believing that Zuma had been forced to step down.
After that bold fightback, Zuma’s supporters were energised to later vote for Zuma to defeat Mbeki during the ANC presidential contest in 2007.
Subsequently Mbeki was forced to step down as president of the country in 2008.
The circumstances are different, of course, and the era is different as well, but Ramaphosa would be naïve to ignore these lessons of history.
Like Zuma, Mabuza is a very adept political player. He knows how to stitch together constituencies and is expert at working the ANC electoral system.
This was evident in his rise to power in Mpumalanga, his tight grip on the province throughout his time as provincial chairperson and premier and the role he played in producing the outcome of the Nasrec conference.
He may just be about to play his best card.