President Jacob Zuma and his backers have dared his detractors in the ANC: fire the president and face the consequences.
ANC insiders have told City Press that, among the tactics the Zuma camp is using in its fightback against those who want him recalled are warnings that:
. Parliament would have to be dissolved if Zuma is recalled, as it was also nailed by the Constitutional Court judgment, something that will threaten the job security of many MPs;
. If Zuma is recalled and a special conference is called, his supporters will mobilise for him to get a third term as ANC president, thus lengthening a stay that was due to end in December next year;
. His recall will be claimed as a victory by opposition parties;
. The resultant chaos would play into the hands of the opposition in a local government election year; and
. The ANC will face its third split in a decade following the formation of, first, the Congress of the People (Cope) and then the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The issue of cutting short Zuma’s term, which has been gaining momentum since revelations that his friends the Guptas have been exercising excessive influence over his administration, was given impetus by this week’s Constitutional Court ruling that he had in effect violated his oath of office through his handling of the Nkandla affair.
The court also found that Parliament had failed in its duty to hold the executive accountable and had acted illegally when it instituted parallel investigations that attempted to nullify Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Secure in Comfort report.
City Press understands that by the time the ANC’s top six formally met following the Thursday judgment, those who were going to push for the decision had already sensed that they were not going to win the day. Senior leaders said Zuma himself did speak to the issue of stepping down. But some of the severe consequences of such an action were outlined.
A senior leader who was briefed immediately after the top-six meeting said the consensus was that if Zuma were to step down it would be better to wait.
“The agreement was that it was better to do so after the local government elections to avoid playing into the hands of the opposition. He would not do it now. They advised him. He offered [to go]; no one objected, except that it could not be done on a whim,” said a senior leader.
Instead of dwelling on the question of an immediate recall, it was decided that the top six would present a united front to the public before this week’s special parliamentary caucus and the extended national working committee, which would include the entire national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC as well as leaders of the broader alliance.
The biggest stumbling block to a recall was the possibility of Parliament also facing a recall, the senior leader said.
“People are talking about a recall, so who is going to participate in that recall? It is Parliament. But the ruling chastises the same Parliament. You cannot call for impeachment at this particular time. You cannot say [Zuma] has to be impeached and Parliament stays,” he added.
A senior government official said “no one will have the courage to challenge Zuma, because many people stand to lose”. He added that there were few people in the top echelons of the ANC with the courage to take on Zuma.
A leader said another obstacle was that the top six “has no powers to recall Zuma”. If he were to be removed by the structure, the decision would have to be ratified by the national working committee and then the NEC, which are all packed with Zuma supporters.
Ahead of the ANC top-six meeting on Friday, leaders of the ANC Youth League, Women’s League and its veterans’ association declared confidence in Zuma’s leadership and dared his opponents to bow to pressure from opposition parties.
“The ANC must never allow itself to be put under pressure by the opposition parties,” military veterans leader Kebby Maphatsoe told City Press, adding that “the court never said Zuma violated his oath of office”.
“We still have confidence in the leadership of the president of the ANC. They said Zuma must pay for the upgrades because he benefited. The court has made the Public Protector’s powers clear and Zuma has never refused to pay. We think we should take it from there,” said Maphatsoe.
KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala said “there is nothing that really requires any panic” and the “convening of urgent meetings”, because the national office was equipped to deal with the matter.
Youth league president Collen Maine said that, for them, the matter was closed. “Once he has paid, we do not see why, as the country, we should continue to pursue this. We must allow the executive to also move forward. The country cannot be governed through the courts. South Africa must move forward,” he said.
Labour federation Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the ANC found itself in a difficult position.
“If you are going to recall a sitting president who is a president of a political party, how are you going to manage the two centres of power? They have to debate all those issues. Even from the president himself – if he says he wants to step down, the question will have to be asked: what about the ANC president?”
The federation’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, said “no sound political party can bow to the demands of the opposition”, adding that “you can’t have an ANC that says ‘let’s give the opposition what they want’.”
“Everyone is baying for Zuma’s blood, expecting him to resign, but how do you resign without the structures of the ANC? This is not a matter for anyone, not even Zuma himself, but the structures. Those saying they are expecting him to announce his resignation are being unfair to him. You can’t do that without the structures,” said Dlamini.
ANC Women’s League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba said they would oppose Zuma’s removal, as it would offer political gains to the opposition.
“They are so vehement; they don’t know deeper than that they want to influence the agenda, but there are processes in the ANC. To remove someone is not easy; it will depend on the outcome of what the structures say; we can’t let the opposition dictate.”
On Friday, following the top-six meeting, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said calls by the opposition to have Zuma removed were meant to make “the ANC tear itself apart”.
An alliance leader said that the ANC should be wary of repeating the same mistake it made when it recalled Thabo Mbeki in 2008.
“Can it afford to continue on that path? People forget that the EFF and Cope are products of ANC internal ructions. A sitting president was recalled by this party. All of this has happened in the space of 20 years,” he said.
However, others in the ANC felt the matter was more serious.
ANC veteran Siphiwe Nyanda said the ANC was part of the crafting of the Constitution.
“We therefore have to live the Constitution. We therefore cannot be seen to be the ones who violate that Constitution.
“It is the supreme law of land. Any president is entrusted with upholding that supreme law and any individual or MP has to do that. If we are found wanting, then it becomes a serious issue,” he said, adding: “It is a constitutional matter and everyone who is in government and participates in any arm of the state has a duty to familiarise themselves with the Constitution and get the best legal advice ... and not to be seen to be in violation of that Constitution through their actions.”