The end of Jacob Zuma’s tenure as South Africa’s president was sealed on Thursday when he filed his appeal against a court order that transferred the power to appoint the national director of public prosecutions to the deputy president.
That move, which came on the first day of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), angered party president Cyril Ramaphosa’s backers who ignored pleas by the new man to treat Zuma with dignity and went for his head.
Zuma’s decision to appeal the judgment that Ramaphosa appoint the successor to NPA head Shaun Abrahams was seen as a sign of “disrespect” by NEC members.
This, coupled with reports that Zuma and his ministers were on the verge of making wholesale changes at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), saw NEC members seen as close to Ramaphosa table a motion that Zuma’s term be cut short.
“There was a rush to fill key vacancies. In most instances people would be locked for into long-term contracts of about five years in office.
“That thing is corruption,” said a senior leader.
HOW THE AXE FELL
The charge was led by newly elected NEC member David Masondo and veteran Bheki Cele and did not meet much resistance from Zuma loyalists, who had already accepted that the president was a goner.
City Press heard that Ramaphosa allowed the recall debate to proceed because he was extremely livid over reports that he apologised to Zuma for comments he made about Khwezi when the two met in KwaZulu-Natal two weeks ago.
“How can they show respect for someone who has no respect for you,” asked an ANC insider. “So his attitude was to let the dice roll.”
The matter did not even go to a vote and it was decided the top six officials would manage a “dignified” exit for Zuma, which could happen within a week.
‘The old man is out of options. He has some die-hard support, but it is not enough.
‘The balance of forces has shifted to favour Cyril. Cyril takes his cue from heavyweights such as Bheki Cele, who are not pushovers.
‘Their view, along with captains of industry, is that Cyril must take over immediately,” said a leader.
A Cabinet shakeup is on the cards, but this could be delayed until Ramaphosa returns from the World Economic Forum in Davos.
It is expected that many of those that Zuma fired will return to government, while some of the compromised ministers he appointed will be shown the door.
Those privy to discussions say Zuma’s mistake was to “fill certain positions quietly in SOEs so that they serve his interests, even when he is gone”.
“There was a rush to fill key vacancies. In most instances, people would be locked into long-term contracts of about five years. That thing is corruption,” said a senior leader.
Even though those close to Ramaphosa say he is “not averse to Zuma delivering the state of the nation address for one last time” on February 8.
However, the overwhelming sentiment is that he should be out before then.
Zuma is seen as a liability to the ANC ahead of the 2019 elections and they want him gone before the election campaign starts.
Ramaphosa is said to be keen to avoid “humiliating” Zuma, as happened to former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008, when he was unceremoniously booted out by the NEC.
The post NEC meeting statement released yesterday was silent on Zuma’s fate and merely said the two leaders would continue interacting.
After the decision, Ramaphosa left the NEC meeting to meet Zuma “to ensure that he doesn’t hear it through the grapevine”, said a source.
In a clear sign that Ramaphosa is in charge, despite not having secured an outright victory at the ANC’s conference in December, the NEC disbanded the ANC’s executives in Zuma strongholds – the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
They will be run by interim leaders. The decision was put to a vote.
Further alienating Zuma from NEC members has been his insistence on broadening the terms of reference for the state capture inquiry.
This is despite Ramaphosa stating that it should be kept within the confines of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action directives, contained in her 2016 report State of Capture.
Ramaphosa supporters allege a disinformation campaign is being used to convey the impression “that Ramaphosa is cornering Zuma as a deployee” of the ANC.
ANC leaders told City Press that Ramaphosa’s leadership on matters of state since the December conference has left Zuma playing “a prime ministerial role, ceremonial at best and a lame duck at worst.”
Ramaphosa has assumed the role of de facto head of state, taking charge of fixing government issues like the crisis at Eskom and managing Zuma from his position as party president.
The two have had a marathon of meetings in the past two weeks.
Insiders say it is clear Zuma is taking instructions from Luthuli House, just like any other deployee, such as ministers, premiers and mayors.
KEEPING ZUMA INSIDE THE TENT
Ramaphosa’s advisers say he is aware that Zuma still commands a following in the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. Having him campaign for the ANC in next year’s election would help retain those voters who were attracted by his style and persona.
A Zuma ally has commended the mature way the ANC is handling his exit and said it was “a defeat for those who shout from the rooftops calling for regime change”.
“Zuma has always said he is prepared to listen, but he will not allow that his comrades plot with the enemy to remove him from power.
“He has always said that.”
‘THE BUFFALO IS CLEARING THE ROOM’
ANC insiders said the dramatic week which culminated in the NEC decision, began in Luthuli House on Monday morning, when Ramaphosa held a series of meetings with ministers and leaders.
He had about eight meetings by the time the officials met and presented a proposal to the ANC’s top six on how to turn things around in the party and in government.
This included a “ political management process” on handling the transition.
Among those he met were Justice Minister Michael Masutha and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula.
This set the wheels in motion for the clean-up in crime intelligence and other institutions.
On Tuesday, Mbalula announced the removal of controversial police crime intelligence Richard Mdluli, who had earned R8m sitting at home since his suspension in 2011.
Mbalula, who had been a vocal backer of Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ahead of the Nasrec conference, heaped praise on Ramaphosa and his commitment to fighting corruption.
Mbalula also sacked former Hawks Boss Berning Ntlemeza, who was accused of suppressing and slowing down corruption investigations involving powerful politicians.
“What is clear is that power is gone from Zuma. Following this lekgotla, power will be caged, increasingly so,” said an insider.
Another ANC leader said: “Zuma is in a corner, because there is no appetite to wait any longer for his exit.
“The buffalo is already clearing the room,” the leader said.
Those in the ANC implicated in wrongdoing will be held accountable, said the source.
Ramaphosa revealed in his January 8 statement that the ANC’s integrity committee would finalise its work by June.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule have been mentioned as being among those who could be in the firing line.
Magashule’s future hangs by a thread and his victory in December will be short-lived, according to those close to Ramaphosa.
“This integrity commission process is clear: everything must be dealt with and finalised by June.
“So people will be shocked when they are told to go, to save the organisation from further embarrassment,” said the insider.
This could force the ANC to convene a national general council – involving branch delegates – soon afterwards to fill vacancies such as the secretary-general’s position.
GETTING THE ALLIANCE ON BOARD
Ramaphosa and his five officials met alliance leaders ahead of the start of the ANC lekgotla at St George Hotel in Tshwane yesterday morning.
The alliance has for months called the ANC’s bluff in its failure to deal with Zuma. They say he has outsourced his powers to his friends, the Gupta family.
Ramaphosa wants to ensure he and the alliance move in step.
It remains to be seen whether the alliance will accept whatever briefing they receive, or if they will push for a rapid removal of Zuma.
ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe first revealed this at the SA Communist Party’s Joe Slovo commemoration, saying there were attempts to contain Ramaphosa using appointments to secure Zuma’s control.
THE GUPTA SCREWS
Likely to make matters worse for Zuma is news that Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa has allegedly turned on him and the family.
Sources say Essa, who has been at the centre of the Gupta’s alleged state capture schemes, will lodge an affidavit with Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into Eskom.
He is apparently seeking a plea bargain agreement.