By Rafiq Raji, PhD
It is hard to wonder what the ruminations of South African president Jacob Zuma was as he watched his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, take his place on the global stage in late January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Now president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, Mr Ramaphosa, is nominally Mr Zuma’s boss. Effectively, it is not so simple. A party president is most effective if he or she is also president of the Republic. This refers to the specific South African case, where it is the political party that deploys cadres to government when it secures power. The imperative for Mr Zuma to give way for Mr Ramaphosa cannot be overemphasized. True, Mr Zuma’s tenure as president extends to 2019. And should he decide to hold on, and is not recalled by his party or impeached, he would be able to serve his second and last term in full. Were that to happen however, it would be at the expense of the well-being of longsuffering South Africans. Firstly, Mr Zuma is fighting corruption charges. Secondly, his continued stay would entrench increasingly intractable differences within his party. Thirdly, the ANC needs time to repair the damage done by Mr Zuma if it hopes to be victorious in the 2019 polls.
Get out of jail free card
The primary concern of Mr Zuma is likely how to avoid going to jail. Finishing out his term guarantees he would not have to worry about that for another two years. Of course, he could secure a deal to avoid prosecution by leaving earlier. But that would be hugely unpopular. Even so, such is the strenght of the desire to see him gone that South Africans might not mind overmuch if he is allowed to retire to his Nkandla homestead in peace. What is concerning is that a typically clever Zuma is reported to be obstinately insistent on finishing his term. Local media report Mr Zuma would rather be recalled or impeached than resign. He is not being totally irrational. On the recall, he still has allies in the top echelons of the ruling party, who despite his waning power are surprisingly still loyal to him, albeit they have begun to hedge their bets. ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, a staunch Zuma loyalist, may not be one of those, though; albeit it may be because he faces scrutiny for corruption as well. Party treasurer, Paul Mashatile, is in the Ramaphosa camp, at least; calling for Mr Zuma to step down as recently as late last week. The positions of the two top men is indicative of the entrenched and sharp divisions within the so-called “top 6” of the ruling party. So, a recall would be difficult but not impossible. But Mr Ramaphosa is believed to be averse to such a move. After the Constitutional Court ruled in late December that clear and precise impeachment modalities be instituted by the legislature, a potential Zuma impeachment should be pretty straightforward; if it ever comes to that. But were it to happen, it could take time. Thus, it would be much easier if Mr Zuma simply resigned. In any case, an umpteenth no-confidence vote is scheduled for late-February. Considering the narrower margin in favour of Mr Zuma in the last vote, there is a greater probability that he might not be so fortunate this time around.
What is potentially pitiable is how Mr Ramaphosa would likely increasingly become undermined the longer Mr Zuma stays in office. Surprisingly, Mr Ramaphosa has thus far been making excuses for his seeming timidity in taking on Mr Zuma frontally. He desires instead that Mr Zuma’s dignity be guarded. Ironically, Mr Zuma was not so gracious when he found himself in a similar position. After winning the party’s presidency in 2007, Mr Zuma moved swiftly against Thabo Mbeki, the country’s president at the time; albeit Mr Mbeki still managed to hold on for another nine months. And even afterwards, Mr Zuma had to wait till after the 2009 general elections before becoming president. It is believed Mr Zuma desires another “Kgalema Motlanthe arrangement” in exchange for leaving office early. (Mr Motlanthe held the fort after Mr Mbeki’s resignation.) Reports suggest his idea of another “Motlanthe” is his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the candidate Mr Ramaphosa beat to clinch the ANC presidency. Mr Zuma had one advantage back in 2007, though: the table was not as divided as it is today. Should Mr Ramaphosa choose to recall Mr Zuma, he would need to bring the president’s allies onside. There are indications he is beginning to win them over. The problem is that Mr Ramaphosa is not moving fast enough. Worryingly, his momentum may suffer great peril if anybody other than him delivers the state of the nation address (SONA) on 8 February. Mr Zuma knows this. So does Mr Ramaphosa. Because when he was recently asked about the dilemma in Davos by Zainab Bedawi, one of the anchors of Hardtalk, a hard-hitting interview programme by the BBC, his response was a palpable departure from what was a smooth interrogation hitherto: he took a very deep breath before answering; betraying his erstwhile take-your–time rhetoric. It is probable these considerations were put to Mr Zuma when the ANC’s top officials met him this past weekend. Whether they got his attention is another matter.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/dirty-zuma-exit-fight-inevitable/