If Zuma delivers SONA, Ramaphosa is a lame duck

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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Gulshan Khan, AFP)
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Gulshan Khan, AFP)

Things haven't been looking this good for the ANC in years.

The "Rainbow Revolution", as colleague Ferial Haffajee calls it, is sweeping across South Africa after the election of Cyril "Buffalo Soldier" Ramaphosa as party president just over a month ago.

Suddenly the country is waking up to the possibility that good governance, economic growth and anti-corruption may no longer be a pipe dream, but a reality.

Ramaphosa's critical intervention at Eskom, the announcement of the Zondo Commission into state capture and the National Prosecuting Authority's new-found chutzpah to act against the Guptas were perfectly timed. It has pulled the country from its collective depression, caused by a decade of misrule under Jacob Zuma.

It's a good start, but that's all. Precisely because Zuma is still occupying the West Wing of the Union Buildings, almost 40 days after his candidate for ANC president was defeated at Nasrec.

The ANC is in remission and it has a golden opportunity to rid itself completely from the cancer that is Zuma, but that opportunity expires in two weeks.

If Ramaphosa does not deliver the State of the Nation (SONA) address on February 8, Zuma would have proven that he still holds substantive sway over a divided ANC that isn’t fully committed behind Ramaphosa's "Rainbow Revolution" to clean up South Africa.

The ANC’s inability to deal with its Zuma problem will invigorate the opposition and reignite the possibility of a coalition government, possibly excluding the ANC, governing South Africa after the 2019 general election.

With the DA tearing itself apart over the Western Cape's water crisis and the EFF struggling to find innovative ways to hog the limelight that doesn’t involve manhandling mannequins, the ANC has a great opportunity to seize the moment.

Not recalling Zuma before February 8 will be the perfect gift the opposition needs to reclaim the moral high ground.

Imagine the field day Julius Malema, Mmusi Maimane, Bantu Holomisa, Mosiuoa Lekota and their colleagues will have in Parliament if Zuma delivers SONA. Ramaphosa will only be able to watch, like a lame duck, while they tear into the shameful president on everything, from his friends plundering the Free State and Eskom, to his opportunistic announcement of free higher education to help his preferred candidate win the ANC presidential race.

The tide has turned in Ramaphosa's favour and it's his moment to squander.

On the weekend, the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) gave him and the other officials the mandate to negotiate Zuma's exit. Ace Magashule, the new secretary general who is himself deeply implicated in the Zupta scandal, was economical with the truth when he told the media the NEC did not debate Zuma's exit.

The clearest signal that the forces inside the party had shifted was when only five Zuma stooges stood up at the NEC to argue why he should not vacate the Union Buildings before his presidential term ends.

Although the majority of NEC members did not speak up loudly for Zuma to leave, more ANC leaders voiced their support for an early exit than those against it. The option was even raised for a motion of no confidence, led by ANC MPs, if Ramaphosa and co fails to convince Zuma to leave gracefully.

Ramaphosa's preference is still for Zuma to resign. In terms of the Constitution, Ramaphosa will then become acting president until Parliament elects a new president.

The Cabinet remains and Ramaphosa will have to reshuffle to get rid of the worst Zuma stooges, like Mosebenzi Zwane, Faith Muthambi, Bathabile Dlamini and David Mahlobo.

If Zuma doesn't resign, Ramaphosa has two options: either the NEC recalls him or Parliament votes him out through a motion of no confidence (where the entire Cabinet resigns with him) or impeachment proceedings (where the Cabinet stays intact). Zuma just signed the terms of reference for a judicial commission of inquiry that implicates him and his family deeply. Think about that for a moment.

Whichever option he chooses, Ramaphosa simply has to deliver the SONA on February 8. Not doing so will bring to an abrupt end the unprecedented momentum and goodwill the ANC currently enjoys.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanBasson

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