[OPINION] The ANC’s ‘hot mess’

‘Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.’

President Jacob Zuma is going down fighting, as expected.

There was a rich irony in ANC secretary-general and his deputy Jessie Duarte delivering the NEC’s letter of recall to President Zuma early on Tuesday. Both have been fierce supporters of Zuma yet, as the cliché goes, “there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies in politics, only permanent interests”.

When Magashule came to the podium at the much-awaited press briefing after the marathon NEC meeting on Monday, he seemed like a reluctant messenger. We were told that Zuma had been ‘recalled’; ANC ‘code’ for him being asked to resign. The immediate question that followed was, "by when?"

Magashule was coy. No date had been set. Zuma was set to deliver a statement on Wednesday at 10am but there is now confusion as to whether this will in fact happen. This simply adds to the confusion of the past week.

The NEC did not accede to Zuma’s demand that he remain president for between three to six months. It is clear, however, that the ANC expects Zuma to fall on his sword now and resign. It is, however, now trite to say that this will be tricky for Zuma to do given that he has the very real possibility of being charged with fraud and corruption once he departs the scene. Members of his family, including his son Duduzane, are deeply implicated in the allegations of state capture. That makes it doubly difficult for Zuma to simply follow the instruction to resign, as Thabo Mbeki did.

What is clear, however, is that Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the State of the Nation Address (Sona) and that the ANC wants to have him installed as president as soon as possible. That limits the damage for them and allows them time to sell some sort of renewal of the ANC to the electorate ahead of the 2019 elections.

The longer Zuma stays, the harder it becomes for the ANC. As it is, the process of dislodging Zuma has been predictably messy and unpredictable. Ramaphosa has had to navigate the issue very carefully - and slowly. That has necessitated the unpredictable back and forth we have seen over the past week.

If Zuma were to do the right thing and resign, it would almost be out of character. His entire presidency has, after all, been a tissue of lies, a series of constitutional breaches and case study in victimhood. Zuma’s common refrain- even after the scathing ConCourt judgment in the Nkandla matter was, “what have I done?” A Zuma resignation would be the cleanest option for the ANC. It would mean that Ramaphosa becomes president in terms of s90 of the Constitution.

If Zuma digs his heels in for yet another day or a few days, then a motion of no confidence in him becomes a certainty. The opposition has already tabled such a motion in terms of s102 of the Constitution. This would need a simple majority of 201. As things stand, inter alia, the seat allocation in the National Assembly is the ANC with 249, the DA with 89, the EFF with 25, the IFP with 10, the NFP with 6, the UDM with 4, the FF+ with 4, the ACDP with 3, and so it goes. In the motion of no confidence against Zuma last August at least 30 ANC MPs voted against Zuma.

But the ANC would probably prefer not to boot out its president on the back of an opposition motion. In fact, Magashule said he wasn’t sure whether the ANC would vote with the opposition in such a motion. Party chair Gwede Mantashe was singing off a different hymn sheet, however. He was unequivocal, “If you refuse to resign we will let you be eaten by the vultures in the vote of no confidence. So I hope that the man I respect called Mr Zuma will do the right thing and resign with dignity. If he does not he will have to face the vultures on his own in Parliament. We don’t want him to be embarrassed in Parliament”. On this basis, it does seem unlikely that 201 votes would be out of reach and that the motion would fail.

The timing of this motion now becomes important and in a sense, the ball is in Speaker Baleka Mbete’s court. Mbete usually has a strong sense of the way in which political winds are blowing, hence her postponement of Sona after rethinking the issue - in her words.

She seems to have shifted her political allegiance away from Zuma and has been asked by the opposition to bring the motion forward. It is currently set for 22 February. That is a day after the Budget is supposed to be tabled. If the motion is successful, a new president and a new Cabinet will be installed. 22 February seems rather too late, however, and given the urgent parliamentary meetings scheduled for Wednesday morning, an earlier date may well be on the cards.

The advantage of that is that it provides Ramaphosa with a clean slate to lead and start cleaning up the mess of poor governance, corruption and maladministration that have marked the Zuma years.

Opposition parties have also been floating the idea of the dissolution of Parliament and an early election in terms of s50 of the Constitution. While this also needs a simple majority, it is probably the least likely scenario given the political winds blowing right now. It is also unnecessary. In addition, the IEC would not be ready for an election in 90 days from the date of the dissolution of Parliament as required by s49 of the Constitution. It is also slightly disingenuous given that it is our electoral system, a proportional representation-list system, which has caused us all to be held hostage to the ANC’s own internal factional battles. Perhaps we should be looking beyond short-term political gain and having a more thoughtful conversation about the pros and cons of our electoral system? That would be welcome specifically since the ANC in government all but ignored the Van Zyl Slabbert Electoral Task Team report of 2003.

It seems inconceivable, (though obviously not impossible), that this will drag on for much longer especially given the need for the Budget to be tabled on 21 February.

That Zuma is so defiant and ill-disciplined shows us only one thing and that is how very afraid he is of losing the trappings of power which stand between him and possible imprisonment.

He has stark choices in the coming days. Unfortunately, he cannot be protected from the rule of law and its consequences once he is no longer in office. Despite the ‘hot mess’ the ANC is in, our country is proving resilient in these dying days of the Zuma presidency.

Zuma has tried to break the rule of law and along with it, he has tried to break the spirit of South Africans to rise again and rebuild our country.

Along with much else in his disastrous presidency, he has failed at that too.

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