It's not Zuma, but Ramaphosa that is in a corner

President Jacob Zuma and with Cyril Ramaphosa. (Themba Makofane, Daily Sun)
President Jacob Zuma and with Cyril Ramaphosa. (Themba Makofane, Daily Sun)

On the face of it, President Jacob Zuma is supposed to be a man in a tight corner with very little space to manoeuvre except to resign. 

The past few days South Africa has been pregnant with expectation of Zuma's imminent resignation as it happened with his predecessor, former president Thabo Mbeki. But Zuma has again shown us that he is able to squeeze himself out between a rock and a hard place to live just another day. Or perhaps till his term comes to an end in 2019.

His successor in the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa and chairperson Gwede Mantashe have warned him that they won't guarantee him parliamentary support if the opposition parties went ahead with their plan to impeach him or table a motion of no confidence in him. Hence, they are now discussing his "options".

But as a matter of principle, Mantashe can't "mantash" now and tell us the ANC caucus in Parliament will vote with the opposition. 

It was he who said in May last year ahead of the last motion of no confidence that for ANC members to vote with the opposition "would be the highest level of ill-discipline, the highest level of betrayal, the worst".

So in the days leading up to another motion, speaking out against removing Zuma in an opposition sponsored motion, the ANC will again be exposed as hypocrites in the eyes of the voting public for keeping Zuma in office. 

With a precedent set with the secret ballot last year, Ramaphosa could threaten Zuma that more ANC members would vote for him to go than the 30 to 40 who voted for the motion of no confidence last time.  

Zuma can call his bluff and defiantly stay on at the Union Buildings – knowing very well that he still has support in Parliament and that some ANC members would not vote with the opposition, so the outcome of the vote becomes anyone's guess.

In the meantime, he still chairs Cabinet and enjoys constitutionally guaranteed presidential powers despite Luthuli House shouting that they are the centre of power.

After all, he has been down this road – reshuffling Cabinets and announcing free education without consulting with the party.

Whatever the outcome of a parliamentary process, Zuma wins and Ramaphosa loses. 

The ANC would be embarrassed that it had to depend on the opposition to get rid of its own errant president and Ramaphosa will be rendered weak early on in his presidency while his foes are regrouping in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal using the office of the secretary general occupied by Ace Magashule. 

Magashule has already used his powers by stuffing the provincial task teams to lead ANC elections in these provinces with his fellow comrades who opposed Ramaphosa's election. Already he is also using Zuma's recall to campaign to keep his own position.

The love supporters gave the party after Ramaphosa's election is also waning with every day that Zuma is still head of state, with the clock quickly ticking towards the 2019 elections. 

Ramaphosa cannot offer Zuma a pardon as that requires him to admit guilt or be prosecuted. 

He cannot offer Zuma immunity because he came to power promising prosecution of those guilty of opening the public purse to "certain families".  

There has been no indication that Ramaphosa has an Ace up his sleeve to tackle the "Teflon Don" that is Zuma. He has already said that he must not be "humiliated" to avoid a backlash from KwaZulu-Natal, a province the ANC needs to win the elections. 

Ramaphosa could call for the special meeting of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) to make a definitive decision to recall Zuma. But then he would have to admit defeat to the members he leads after they gave him the mandate to manage Zuma's exit.

During Monday’s national working committee meeting some members are said to have told the top six officials led by Ramaphosa that if Zuma refuses to go they must call a special NEC meeting.

Talk in the ANC is that the NEC would give the emphatic nod for Zuma to go and if he refuses the party would bring forward its own motion in Parliament.  

It would be unprecedented - after all, it was Mbeki who made it "easy" for the party and resigned in 2008 after the NEC decided to recall him, with just a few months left in his tenure. 

The motion would be justified, as Zuma would be "defying" the organisation, they argue.  

Ramaphosa's other options would have been to wait for the National Director of Public Prosecutions to reinstate the corruption charges against Zuma, but that decision might not come anytime soon. Shaun Abrahams needs Zuma to stay in his job and is appealing the court ruling that he must be replaced.

So really, Zuma is not the one in a corner, but Ramaphosa. He needs to checkmate Zuma very soon to cement his position as president of the ANC with power.

- Mahlase is politics editor of News24.

* This article was amended after publication.

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