The Zuma conundrum splits the ANC, but who holds the key?
New leadership cannot agree on heads of the party’s key committees
There is serious discord brewing in the newly elected ANC leadership, not only over the future of President Jacob Zuma but who serves as the heads of the party’s key committees for the next five years.
While the ANC’s top officials have publicly contradicted each other on whether Zuma will leave office early, the newly elected national working committee is unable to reach agreement on some of the chairs of subcommittees.
At its first meeting on Monday, the 20-member NWC together with the top six officials had to decide on a new national spokesperson and the chairs of its subcommittees.
Two of these positions are now being contested and they will have to be decided at the next national executive committee meeting.
This comes at a time when the ANC is under increasing pressure about whether Zuma should deliver the State of the Nation Address next week.Former Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lobbyist Pule Mabe, who resigned as an ANC MP last year, has been proposed for the position of ANC spokesperson.
This will be a surprise if the appointment is confirmed, with one of Zuma’s defenders as the voice of the party even though the NWC and NEC are weighted in favour of the Cyril Ramaphosa faction.
Enoch Godongwana, Nomvula Mokonyane and Nathi Mthethwa seemed set to remain in their positions as the heads of economic transformation, elections and political education respectively.
Tony Yengeni has been proposed to chair the peace and stability subcommittee and Jeff Radebe is touted to be the new chairperson of the national disciplinary committee in place of Derek Hanekom.
The two positions that are contested are Zizi Kodwa for the head of the communications subcommittee and Fikile Mbalula to retain his position as head of organisation building and campaigns.
The dispute over positions reflects that the organisation is still hamstrung over factional divides with the leadership corps elected in December struggling to coalesce.
This is clearly evident in the mixed messaging over Zuma’s future and different interpretations of the outcome of an NEC meeting two weeks ago.
While there was general consensus at that meeting that Zuma’s continued presence in government would negatively impact on the ANC’s standing ahead of next year’s elections, the NEC did not decide on an immediate recall.
Instead the committee left it to the top six officials to discuss the matter with Zuma and “manage” his departure from office.
Ramaphosa has been bullish on the issue, particularly during interviews at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, sending out strong indicators that Zuma was on his way out.
But he has been contradicted by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte, both of whom maintain that Zuma would see out his term.
“It’s only factional leaders who want to be populist who want him (Zuma) gone,” Magashule said at an ANC Youth League event in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
Duarte said in an interview that Ramaphosa might have been expressing his personal views when he told the BBC that Zuma was “anxious” about his future.
ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe has said that the officials would meet Zuma to discuss “options” to avoid him being impeached or voted out in a motion of no confidence in parliament.
The ANC missed the opportunity to have Ramaphosa take charge of the government programme of action by executing what it calls “leadership transition” ahead of the cabinet lekgotla currently underway in Pretoria. The lekgotla sets the mandate of the Sona, which is scheduled to take place on February 8.The event is likely to be mired in controversy again with the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance leaders both writing to Speaker Baleka Mbete requesting that she postpone the Sona.
EFF leader Julius Malema said in his letter to Mbete that another motion of no confidence against Zuma should be scheduled before the Sona in light of “serious political developments and court judgments”, as well as possible impeachment proceedings and the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.
“The suitability of Mr Jacob Zuma to continue in the office of president is more of an urgent question now than a Sona to be delivered by an incumbent who is on the verge of commissions and trials,” Malema said. He said Mbete’s failure to reschedule parliament would prompt the EFF to raise the issue during the Sona.
In his letter to Mbete, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the Sona should be postponed until parliament is able to elect a new president.
“As things stand, it would not be in the best interests of South Africa for President Zuma to deliver the State of the Nation Address when there exists great uncertainty as to whether he will remain President, and if so, for how long.”
Maimane said parliament had already opened for business and did not require the Sona to do its work.
With the current discord at the highest levels of the ANC, it is unlikely that the Zuma conundrum will be resolved before the Sona. This sets the scene for another turbulent Opening of Parliament and egg on the face of the ANC leadership.