Jacob Zuma has again escaped the axe after the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) decided to retain him as the country’s number one citizen. But this decision cannot be interpreted as a victory for the embattled ANC president. The second motion by his comrades in less than six months to force him to step down has further weakened him.
During the NEC meeting last week, Zuma pleaded to be allowed to continue and to step down at the ANC’s national conference in December.
Some NEC members now expect Msholozi to bow out as president of the country when his term as ANC leader expires at the end of the year.
Zuma took two more huge blows: the NEC ordered Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown to reverse the Eskom board’s decision to reappoint Brian Molefe as its chief executive, and Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas was told to reverse her decision to reshuffle her Cabinet.
The president’s remark in Parliament this week, that he was not opposed to the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, has been interpreted as a tactical retreat after the NEC instructed him to establish such a probe without delay.
The decision came in the wake of damning leaked email correspondence that appears to confirm the Gupta family’s control over Cabinet ministers, as well as parastatal chief executives and board members.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that the leadership did discuss the emails and believed that all the allegations should form part of the inquiry.
“The allegations are damaging to a democratic state. They are very serious. We can’t have a democratic state where it is alleged that its decision making is influenced by unelected people for their own selfish business interests. That we cannot allow, but it needs to be verified. We think the sooner we establish the commission of inquiry, [the better],” said Kodwa.
Zuma and his supporters have previously shot down calls for a judicial probe into state capture. His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called for an inquiry on several different platforms in the past few months.
That 18 out of the 72 NEC members, who spoke during last weekend’s debate on the no-confidence motion, explicitly told Zuma to step down is an indication that more ANC leaders have found the courage to speak out against their leader, knowing very well that doing so could affect their career prospects. Zuma has in the past dealt harshly with anyone in the ANC who held a different view from him.
His recent decision to reshuffle his Cabinet — when he removed former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, former public service minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi and former tourism minister Derek Hanekom from his Cabinet — was seen as a warning shot to all those in the governing party who differed with him.
Hanekom led the charge in pushing for the motion for Zuma to step down last November. Gordhan and Ramatlhodi spoke openly against state capture and have refused to take orders from Zuma’s family friends — the Guptas.
What is different this time is that, even after the reshuffle, senior ANC leaders including Ramaphosa, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Sports Minister Thulas Nxesi, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla continue to criticise Zuma openly.
In previous NEC meetings, Zuma would have more than 80% of the 106 NEC members eating out of the palm of his hand. Now all indications this time around are that the balance of power has shifted.
According to NEC insiders, only 29 of the 72 NEC members who spoke during the debate were opposed to the motion for Zuma to step down, with 25 taking a neutral stance. Of those 25 NEC members, most do not approve of Zuma’s leadership style, the insiders say. They include Ramatlhodi, Sisulu and Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele.
It appears even Zuma is beginning to wake up and smell the stench.
An Ipsos-eNCA poll showed that Zuma’s approval rating is the lowest for any of
the country’s democratically elected presidents to date.
Only 18% of ANC voters polled by Ipsos support Zuma, according to a Business Day report.
The survey‚ conducted in conjunction with the TV news channel‚ polled 3 500 adults between April 21 and May 22. Results showed that 62% of ANC voters disapproved of Zuma, suggesting that his continued presidency was exacting a heavy toll on the party’s electability.
According to party insiders, Zuma begged ANC leaders to give him until December to step down. This was confirmed by Kodwa.
Although Zuma did not make it clear during the meeting whether he would do so after the ANC elective conference, some NEC members are convinced that he will not only stand down as party leader but will also seriously consider stepping down as the country’s president.
The ANC constitution makes it difficult for the NEC to recall a state president who is still the ANC president.
In 2008, it was easier for the ANC NEC to resolve to recall Thabo Mbeki as state president after he lost his position as party leader to Zuma in 2007.
“My sense is that he [Zuma] has conditioned himself that it would be unsustainable for him to continue as president after December,” said one NEC member.
It is unclear whether Zuma’s temporary reprieve will last until December. Opposition parties are adamant that some ANC MPs will support the Democratic Alliance’s motion of no confidence against Zuma if the Constitutional Court rules in favour of the United Democratic Movement’s application to have the motion take place through a secret ballot.
Alternatively, the opposition is hoping to have Zuma impeached before the end of the year if the Constitutional Court rules in favour of the application by Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters to force National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to establish a parliamentary inquiry into Zuma’s conduct.
This move came after the highest court in the land found Zuma had breached his oath of office by failing to implement former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action and pay back a portion of the R246‑million in public funds spent to upgrade his Nkandla homestead.