[ANALYSIS] Cyril vs the Zumaites

Our politics is entering a period of change that promises, or threatens, to be more intense than anything we’ve seen since 1994. The Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) appear to be hard at work nailing down the Gupta network and investigating serving politicians who hold high office. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is causing hardened news anchors to go “wow” with his answer to what should happen to President Jacob Zuma. But in the real world it seems there are actually multiple struggles on separate fronts across the entire ANC range, from the big public battle around Zuma, through to smaller fights in the provinces, like the one involving ANC North West chairman and provincial Premier Supra Mahumapelo. The party appears to be a boiling pot of swirling battles.

Friday’s raids on the offices of the Free State Premier (and ANC Secretary-General) Ace Magashule, and on the offices of the province’s Agriculture Department, must have caught almost everyone by surprise. The Hawks have confirmed they’re looking for documents about the Vrede Dairy project, in which both Magashule and the current Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane are heavily implicated. On many people’s minds is the question of whether these raids and investigations would be taking place if Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had won the ANC’s conference vote – which seems unlikely.

Magashule himself is now hitting back. On Sunday, at an ANC Youth League event in KwaZulu-Natal (where else?), he said the Hawks should “investigate and not intimidate” himself and others who may be implicated. He also backed Zuma, with eNCA reporting that he said “there’s no decision which we have taken as the NEC that he (Zuma) must go. We have not taken such a decision. It’s only factional leaders who want to be populist, the ones who are loved by the papers, the ones who don’t know the ANC, who are making noise outside....”. It is entirely possible that this is a jibe at Ramaphosa, who hinted to both CNN and the BBC last week that Zuma may soon be going.

Taken together, the raids on Magashule’s office, and his rather pointed response, it would seem that indeed there is huge tension between him and Ramaphosa.

While much of society, particularly in urban areas, appears to be on the side of Ramaphosa, Magashule is not without support. On Friday afternoon, Zwane, a man who lied to Parliament, played a key role in the Guptas’ Waterkloof landing, and who is obviously a bagman for the Guptas, spoke at an event with North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo on Friday afternoon. Then he conducted a brief interview with eNCA. He was asked if he would present himself before the ANC’s Integrity Committee and stand down from his positions. His response was this:

“Is that your agenda... that people who were elected by the conference in December, if they are not liked, there must be other ways of removing them.”

This can hardly be seen as a statement of an innocent man.

But the fact that Mahumapelo was sitting by his side suggests that he will have support from certain quarters. However, to add to the complexity of the situation, it seems he is also facing an insurgency from within North West.

Saturday saw the launch of an organisation called “Save North West Campaign”. Ostensibly, it is aimed at fighting corruption in the province, but it could turn out to be a thinly disguised attempt to remove Mahumapelo. The fact that an attempt was made to disrupt it before it even launched suggests that those who are against the campaign are both scared and organised; well resourced, too.

In the middle of all of this came an interview with Jessie Duarte, the ANC Deputy Secretary-General, in City Press.

She believes that Zuma will remain president until next year, which is an amazing and highly controversial thing to say. Duarte will obviously have seen the Ramaphosa interviews stating the opposite. She would also surely know that much of society is strongly opposed to Zuma remaining in power for a moment more than necessary. And while she used the interview to lament the way that Zuma has been treated, she did not appear to provide a strong reason as to why he should stay; there was nothing that is unique to him staying in power that she put forward that was important to the country. It was proof again, as if any more were needed, that some people in the ANC seem to live in a completely different country.

Of course, it goes without saying that Ramaphosa himself has plenty of support in his bid to remove Zuma, and, in all likelihood, Magashule and others as well. Much of organised society, including the churches, business groups, civil society organisations and other sectors, have publicly said Zuma must go immediately. But perhaps the most interesting and significant statement of support came from the deputy leader of the ANC, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza. He said on Sunday that he supported Ramaphosa, and that “he is very safe with me next to him”. Of course, in politics, it is well known that if you are going to stab somebody in the back it helps to be right behind them. But on the face of it, it certainly appears that Mabuza will support Ramaphosa in the coming months.

In many ways, the events of this weekend suggest that the inherent tensions within the ANC’s Top Six are already coming to the fore, just five weeks after they were elected. Considering that they represent such different interests, this was perhaps inevitable; what is surprising is the speed with which events are moving.

It almost goes without saying that Ramaphosa has two massive advantages, the support of much of society, and the almost certain evidence of wrongdoing on the part of his enemies. On Sunday the Sunday Times claimed that “Zwane is Accused Number One in dairy case” and that several members of the Gupta family are also on the list. This was pushed back a bit later by the NPA itself. Meanwhile, City Press had its own report on how advanced the various investigations were. In the middle of their piece was a curious nugget about the evidence being used for the probes. A source said that the #GuptaLeaks, which have done so much to get the details of the various crimes into the public domain including the Estina debacle, were not being used as evidence in the case, because they have their own evidence.

This leads to several questions. First, how strong is that “other” evidence, and why was it not used earlier? But also, why are the #GuptaLeaks evidence not being used?

There could be several reasons for this. It could simply be that it is not necessary. Or that the Hawks or whoever is conducting these investigations simply don’t believe them. It is hard to understand that, considering how detailed they are, and how the facts they include have been borne out through other investigations. But it should also not be forgotten that a judge would demand to know how this information is being presented, what is the “chain of evidence” of the emails. Perhaps the investigators simply don’t want to put the editor of this site in the dock to try to force him to reveal where they come from, and they have other options.

What is clear is that with this much information about the investigations themselves now being in the public domain, it will becoming increasingly difficult for the probes to actually stop, and not result in charges being laid.

The interest in this is intense, and this will result in more and more pressure being put on the Hawks to produce results, or a miraculously good excuse as to why no charges are being laid. At the same time, those who make the decisions in these investigations, from constables up to Advocate Shaun Abrahams himself, now know that while the political future may still be a bit cloudy, it still leans towards Ramaphosa. As a result, the safest route for them could be to simply do their jobs properly. In other words, for the first time since Vusi Pikoli was appointed head of the NPA, the officials in charge have a political motive to be completely independent in their decision-making.

It is difficult to make hard and fast predictions about how all of this will play out, as there are several different contested fronts to consider. However, the final decision-making body is, as always, the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC). And here, once again, the balance of power is pretty evenly balanced, it seems, between those who want proper reform, and those, like Zwane, who don’t. As things go on, it could be the balance here that really matters. Ramaphosa can probably go quite far without being concerned about any move against him. And if one person goes down, others could quickly jump to support him strongly, if they can. And obviously, if Zuma goes this balance will move quite strongly towards Ramaphosa.

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick. Go to www.dailymaverick.co.za for more comment and analysis.

Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for Eyewitness News and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of 'SA Politics Unspun'. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes