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[OPINION] Zuma’s complicated game of political chess

On again, off again.

Parliament was still abuzz at lunchtime on Tuesday with marching soldiers, expensive German SUVs telling us the president was in town and the centre of Cape Town crawling with police.

Beneath the "business as usual" approach, however, political developments seemed to be moving apace. By 3pm we would hear that for the first time in the history of the democratic Parliament, the State of the Nation Address (Sona) was to be postponed to a date yet determined. President Zuma insists that the postponement was at his request and the presiding officers then implemented that decision. Opposition parties, on the other hand, claimed victory.

Speaker Baleka Mbete said this step was taken "in the interests of the country". The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu said the ANC caucus welcomed the decision. It seems like everyone was clear they wanted to avoid the chaos witnessed in Parliament over the past three years.

Later in the afternoon, Zuma was seen waving to journalists as he left Tuynhuys. Was it hello or goodbye, someone tweeted. Given this complicated game of political chess, we are witnessing, it’s hard to tell precisely what will happen next.

As if all that was not enough, we then heard that the NEC meeting scheduled for today has now also been postponed until 17/18 February. That meeting was meant to discuss matters of "national importance" according to a rather subdued deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte. Decoded, that meant the ANC NEC would be discussing Zuma’s fate. Or at that point, the thinking was that they may decide to recall him or wait and see if the ANC, perhaps together with opposition parties, could muster the votes in the motion of no confidence set down for later this month on the 22nd.

So this is turning into a hot mess. It indicates what a dismal state the organisation is in and with what sensitivity and tactical manouevre Ramaphosa himself has to navigate these choppy organisational waters. Ramaphosa said he had had ‘fruitful conversations’ with Zuma. "Fruitful" is code for what exactly?

What we can say is that we have reached an endgame now, the outcome of which remains uncertain. Because this is not only about dislodging Zuma; it is about undoing a patronage network with criminal tentacles that run very deep. The so-called "shadow state" includes members of Zuma’s family and then, of course, several members of his Cabinet who are also on the NEC. The Sassa and Eskom hearings have given us some indication of the level of the rot.

In an ideal world, the NEC would do the right thing, recall Zuma, and install Ramaphosa so that we can all put the past ten years of corruption and criminality behind us.

In a country where unemployment is at its highest level in 14 years and where the state has, through its callous neglect, often ignored the plight of the most vulnerable in our society, we desperately seek action from those in power, at least to stem some of the most egregious rot. This week at the Mining Indaba, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane gave what can only be described as a pitiful speech. We can ill-afford this sort of lack of leadership in a key ministry. This is not mentioning Zwane’s other colleagues who sway between being corrupt, incompetent or both.

Zuma, the wounded animal, has much to lose. His position as president is his only real bulwark against prosecution.

The rumour mill is in over-drive and some are asking whether he might play one last card and reshuffle his Cabinet. In fact, the SACP released a statement regarding the possibility of Zuma firing Ramaphosa. That would be an act of extreme daring, but let us not forget his daring in firing Pravin Gordhan. When one is desperate, anything is possible, although power has seeped from him rather more considerably when Nhlanhla Nene and Gordhan were fired.

But, we know from his actions as president that Zuma has no shame and that he has complete disregard for the people he governs. They are mere chattel for his broader cause of self-aggrandisement.

As the Nelson Mandela Foundation statement read yesterday, "President Zuma has abused the trust of South Africans. He must go. Sooner, rather than later. Time is of the essence.”

He has taken the ANC, our democratic institutions and our country to the very brink. A one-man wrecking ball.

It is time to end this nightmare – now.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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