“It [voting for Zuma's removal] would be against the decisions of the ANC; it is not a question of threatening people, it is a question of articulating the position of the ANC in relation to that matter of the withdrawal of the president.” – Fikile Mbalula, July 3, 2017.
“We agreed that ANC members will vote in terms of the decision of the African National Congress. One of my comrades asked me over the weekend, saying what happens now if I don't like a particular form of voting. I said, you are free to take a walk. We are not a party of free agents.” – Gwede Mantashe, July 31, 2017.
“It means absolutely nothing to them that the highest court in the land ruled that Zuma had egregiously failed to defend the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and that he had breached his oath of office.” – Mavuso Msimang, August 7, 2017
In early August 2017 internal ANC dissent against the increasingly damaging and dangerous presidency of Jacob Zuma had reached a high point.
Zuma had led the party to its worst election result ever the year before (causing the ANC to lose control of three metropolitan municipalities), he replaced the political leadership of an antagonistic National Treasury with a pliant and weak one, and was embroiled in an ongoing investigation into state capture by the Public Protector.
Governance was failing at national level after having all but collapsed at local level, the economy was grinding to a halt and Parliament was struggling to function.
The ANC was in a deadlock.
The party could see and feel power ebbing away from it but was powerless to do anything because of the stranglehold Zuma had on it. He had already survived two attempts to force votes of no-confidence at meetings of the ANC’s national executive committee in November 2016 and May 2017 and the ANC’s parliamentary caucus had successfully thwarted three motions of no-confidence brought against Zuma.
In early August 2017 the party was in a full-blown crisis. It was divided into two clearly discernible power blocs: one who campaigned for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed Zuma as ANC leader, and one who wanted then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to ascend to the top.
The former grouping represented a continuation of the status quo and a retention of the politics of patronage and corruption that proliferated under Zuma, the Guptas and the premier league of powerful provincial party chairpersons. The latter grouping represented a commitment to resist and roll back state capture, a return to the rule of law and repairs to debased and eroded state institutions.
During that period Derek Hanekom, who EFF leader Julius Malema this week said “met” with the EFF to plot against Zuma, was a vocal and avowed political opponent of the then president. He actively organised and campaigned to have Zuma removed as ANC leader and head of state.
It wasn’t a secret.
Hanekom regularly spoke against the then president and also proposed one of the votes of no-confidence in him at a meeting of the NEC.
So when Baleka Mbete, a speaker who traded on her unflinching and unquestioning loyalty to party and leader, made the shock announcement that she will allow a secret vote in a motion of no-confidence tabled by the opposition in Zuma, it was an obvious chance for the reformist faction in the ANC to remove someone who had clung to power by all means necessary.
In the days ahead of the vote there were all manner of threats made against MPs who dared vote with their conscience rather than follow the whippery. Gwede Mantashe, then secretary general of the ANC, warned possible dissenters of consequences. ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu said the motion would be defeated because removing Zuma would be “like dropping a nuclear bomb on the country”. Fake lists were circulated as evidence of treason and the caucus leadership made an appeal to party unity and the mortal danger of removing an ANC president through a motion tabled by the opposition.
Zuma survived with a much thinner majority than was expected: 177 votes in favour, 198 opposed and 9 MPs abstaining. He would hold out for six more months before he was ousted on Valentine’s Day last year after an internal ANC conflict which since hasn’t abated.
This week Hanekom was “outed” by Malema as one of the “plotters” who tried to have Zuma removed and who met with the EFF to discuss ways of doing it. The faction aligned to Zuma, including Malema and the EFF, reacted with predictable outrage and ferocity, with ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and his office manager Carl Niehaus both issuing statements condemning Hanekom for his role.
But Hanekom’s role has always been known. He has been open and vocal about it for years. He was even dismissed as minister for it in March 2017 and was a major organiser in Ramaphosa’s campaign.
Meeting MPs from other parties (such as meeting with EFF MPs) and discussing events is pretty standard fare – and in the tumult of 2016 and 2017, when Fortress Zuma-Gupta-Magashule was nigh on impregnable, a constitutionally mandated attempt to unseat a head of state was acceptable and legal. Hanekom was obviously trying to corral as many votes for the “yes” camp as possible, because MPs in the Zuma faction were clearly loyal to the man, despite capture, corruption and corrosion.
So why try to target Hanekom now, this week, when his actions have always been known?
Hanekom is close to Pravin Gordhan, Ramaphosa’s point-man in efforts to clean up state-owned companies, and Gordhan is close to Ramaphosa, a president attempting to stop the rot in government and party.
The anti-reformist grouping, who sees the interests of Magashule, Zuma and Malema increasingly aligning, needs to change the story. They are under pressure and time is running out for their political battering ram Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who was this week censured by the Constitutional Court.
With Zuma’s allegations of spies in the ANC, Magashule’s attack on Hanekom, Mkhwebane’s assault on Gordhan and Ramaphosa and Malema’s attack on white judges, we’re seeing the league of the like-minded coalescing.
They want Ramaphosa, Gordhan and Hanekom gone. Pronto. And not because they’re bad at what they do. Exactly the opposite.