It's game over for Zuma, the kleptocrat

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma

Phew! What a week.

It was never going to be easy to take down President Jacob Zuma, our kleptocrat head of state.

Personal interests always come first for Zuma, who had sworn – twice – to uphold the Constitution and serve the people of South Africa. We now know that the oath of office he signed was worth toilet paper.

Zuma used his reign, since being elected president of the ANC in 2007, to capture the ruling party, watchdog institutions and ultimately the state. The Merriam-Webster dictionary should put up a picture of Zuma next to its description of a kleptocracy: "government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed."

Eleven years in charge of the ANC and nine years as head of state is a long time in power. No wonder Zuma is struggling to let go. No wonder South Africans are, again, the victim of Zuma's egotistical rage against the dying of the light.

The unprecedented postponement of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) had everything to do with Zuma's exit and very little with threats of disruption, as announced by the presiding officers.

The threats of disruption, or in plain language, the assault of EFF MPs by bouncers in white shirts who are now employed by Parliament, was merely a smokescreen used by Speaker Baleka Mbete to justify creating more time for the ANC to kick out Zuma.

In the late hours of Tuesday evening, at the presidential residence Genadendal in Cape Town (it literally means Valley of Grace), Zuma's deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, finally managed to convince Number One that his time was up.

It is now only a matter of days before Zuma resigns. It is perfectly understandable that law-abiding South Africans and those wanting to save the ANC would be anxious to see the back of him.

He has caused South Africa immeasurable harm and it will take years to repair some of the deep damage suffered by the people and institutions of this land.

I don't know if Ramaphosa is a Joe Cocker fan, but if he could choose a song for the country at this moment, it would probably be "Have a little faith in me".

And let's be honest; Ramaphosa deserves some slack. It hasn't even been two months since he took over as ANC president and he has already managed to force Zuma out (on top of fixing the entire top layer of leadership at Eskom).

It took the ANC nine months to recall Thabo Mbeki after Zuma had won at Polokwane in 2007.

Convincing a kleptocrat to voluntarily give up his presidential protection was always going to be tough, but Ramaphosa has won.

Being Nelson Mandela's protégé, it should not be unsurprising that Ramaphosa's style is more velvet glove than iron fist. He has forced Zuma to resign "elegantly".

How did he do this?

On Sunday night, during a tense meeting at the presidential residence in Pretoria, Zuma dug in his heels and refused to voluntarily give up power. This was after the officials explained to him that the tide had turned in the ANC and the structures wanted Ramaphosa to take over immediately.

ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile, who is emerging as the voice of reason in Luthuli House, was reportedly so infuriated by Zuma's stubbornness that he told him he was the face of corruption and that the ANC would be better off without him. Give that man a Bells!

Zuma's refusal to go was deeply upsetting to Ramaphosa and his allies in the top six: David Mabuza, Gwede Mantashe and Mashatile. They were left with no other option but to prove to Zuma that indeed the power had shifted.

On Monday, less than 24 hours later, the ANC national working committee (NWC) had concluded a heated meeting where the overwhelming view was that Zuma should go. Only a few lone voices, including that of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, argued for Zuma to stay.

The NWC mandated Ramaphosa to call an urgent meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) on Wednesday, where Zuma's fate would have been sealed.

So when Zuma invited Ramaphosa to a meeting at Genadendal on Tuesday evening, the tables had turned. 48 hours after Zuma stubbornly dismissed calls for him to go, Ramaphosa proved to the kleptrocrat who was in charge of the ANC.

Zuma had no options left but to play along.

Why didn't Ramaphosa pull the trigger when he had the opportunity?

His supporters in the NEC believe he made a political decision in favour of ANC unity. Ramaphosa is honestly concerned that Zuma may mobilise his supporters in KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces to disrupt Ramaphosa's ANC.

Even though Ramaphosa's support in Zuma's home province has grown dramatically, he is playing it safe, knowing that he still need the numbers to win a national election in 2019.

Kicking Zuma out Mbeki-style had the risk of alienating ANC supporters Ramaphosa would rather keep in the tent.

At a meeting of the ANC caucus on Thursday, Ramaphosa made it clear that he was not going to make a deal with Zuma that included immunity from prosecution. He was not going to do anything "unlawful", the ANC president said.

He is playing it by the book, championing the fight against corruption, also inside the ANC. It would be foolish of Zuma's supporters to contradict Ramaphosa on this.

Speculation inside the ANC is that Zuma may be negotiating for the state to pay his legal fees, even after he had left office. He will likely have to testify before the Zondo Commission and face criminal charges.

Even though it sounds implausible, those in the know say that the president is broke and the Guptas are no longer taking his calls.

Whatever they are negotiating about, the patience of Ramaphosa's supporters are wearing thin. Remaining Zuma supporters, like ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, are pushing for Zuma's exit to happen only after the next NEC meeting, scheduled for February 17.

It is unlikely that Ramaphosa will wait that long and his supporters are pushing for a resignation on the weekend, swearing-in on Tuesday and SONA on Thursday.

It's game over for the kleptocrat and his keepers. Keep the champagne on ice.

- Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter @adriaanbasson.

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