Zuma's backers and foes in the ANC's top brass have nailed their colours to the mast in a fiery meeting in which he was accused of suppressing debate.
President Jacob Zuma’s leadership style was openly attacked at a special ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting this week. It turned vicious when senior leader Siphiwe Nyanda, who led the assault on Zuma, challenged him to prove that he was not a dictator.
A heated debate around the review application by the ANC Youth League and its expelled president, Julius Malema, exposed sharp divisions in the ANC’s top leadership.
According to ANC sources, Nyanda told Zuma: “The argument that there are no merits for the case to be reviewed is not correct. The complaint is in relation to the ANC disciplinary processes. You yourself [Zuma] said in a speech that without unity of the organisation there’s no leader that can sit comfortably — if there’s no unity.
“If you don’t allow this, then it is true that the ANC is under a dictatorship. If you are not a dictator, then you must prove your credentials. We are not just dealing with any members here. It is the leaders of the youth league.”
Human Settlements Minister and ANC NEC member Tokyo Sexwale also took a swipe at Zuma for suppressing views within the ANC: “If we are to be seen to be building unity, we have to give the youth league a hearing. We can’t close our ears to people who want to raise a different view. You [Zuma] are suppressing debates within the ANC.”
Disrespectful youth league
Arguing against the review and in defence of Zuma were Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
Gigaba is understood to have said that the ANC could not allow the “disrespectful” youth league leaders back into its ranks, in a reference to Malema, suspended youth league secretary general Sindiso Magaqa and spokesperson Floyd Shivambu.
An NEC member told the Mail & Guardian that Gigaba, a former youth league president, had acted like a “howling dog” and that through his negative comments about Malema and his colleagues had “betrayed his legacy as a youth league leader by not defending its leaders”.
Gigaba declined to comment.
Nzimande reportedly slammed Nyanda for his virulent attack on Zuma, saying they had been in the ANC long enough to comprehend its complex organisational processes.
This prompted an angry retort from ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni, who said that Nzimande was a newcomer to the ANC as he had spent his formative years in the struggle as a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
According to sources, Mokonyane said youth league members were lobbying NEC members at night for their support for a review of the sanctions against Malema and his colleagues. Justice Minister Jeff Radebe called for ANC treasurer general, Mathews Phosa, a youth league backer, to be censured because of his public comments on the case, but Radebe’s call was not taken further.
Zuma to be replaced
Zuma is said to have stood firm on his position that there was no need to entertain the review application. “I have met with the youth league leaders and I differ with their views. I always thought they [the current leadership] won’t last,” Zuma told the NEC meeting.
Nyanda, Sexwale and Yengeni are pushing for Zuma to be replaced as ANC president by Kgalema Motlanthe during the party’s elective conference in December. Others pushing for Zuma’s removal within the ANC NEC include Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, ANC deputy secretary general Thandi Modise, Phosa and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale.
Zuma’s supporters include Nzimande, Gigaba, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga, and premiers Zweli Mkhize (KwaZulu-Natal), Ace Magashule (Free State) and David Mabuza (Mpumalanga).
Zuma has solid backing from his home province of KwaZulu-Natal as well as Mpumalanga. Motlanthe enjoys support from Limpopo, Gauteng and the Northern Cape. The remaining provinces are divided in their support. In the Eastern Cape, the Motlanthe faction apparently enjoys support from four of the biggest regions, whereas Zuma is backed by the Chris Hani region, which is home to Mantashe.
The M&G understands that delegates at the Gauteng provincial general council last weekend demanded that the province propose an alternative to Zuma for the position of ANC president. However, they decided to withhold names until the nominations officially open in October. In his political report, provincial chairperson Mashatile made it clear that Gauteng did not want Zuma to continue as ANC president.
On Thursday, Mantashe denied that Zuma was under attack by NEC members at the meeting. He could not remember Yengeni verbally attacking Nzimande and calling him a former IFP member. “He didn’t say so; he didn’t speak in the meeting.”
On the allegations that Zuma was accused of being a dictator and of suppressing debate during the meeting, Mantashe said it was not true because “the issue was debated for a long time”. “It’s strange for Zuma to suppress debate when he did not chair the meeting.”
Mbeki moment: Zuma cracks down, critics fight back
This week President Jacob Zuma sought to impose his authority. He fired former police commissioner Bheki Cele. He shut the door on former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. He shook up his Cabinet.
By any standards, here is a man who is decisive and in charge. But it was also the week in which Zuma was called a dictator to his face by his comrades at the ANC’s national executive committee meeting. He had to try to pacify Cele as he fired him. It was also the week when the influential Gauteng ANC asked questions about his leadership.
Zuma is tough but also fragile in his leadership. Even though he remains the favourite to return for another term as ANC president, he must surely have noticed that his potential rival for the post, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, is projecting himself differently, although still not openly campaigning.
Zuma would do well to remember where former president Thabo Mbeki was just before the ANC policy conference in 2005 and where he was six months before the Polokwane conference in 2007. Mbeki and his lieutenants appeared to be fully in charge of the party, ready to return for another term. His supporters’ maths told them they were making good progress.
Zuma is no Mbeki
Mbeki allies, Smuts Ngonyama and Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, spoke like Gwede Mantashe did this week: the policy conference is a platform to discuss policy and no other issues will be entertained there. But Zuma is no Mbeki. By 2005, Mbeki had alienated not only his securocrats and the youth league, but also the alliance partners: the South African Communist Party and Cosatu.
Zuma has been ANC president for less than five years and only three years as head of state. He has worked hard to keep the SACP and Cosatu on his side and the province that will carry the most delegates to Mangaung, KwaZulu-Natal, is fully behind him. A market survey indicates that he enjoys about 60% support from the population – a drop of 6% from last year.
But the parallels with Mbeki remain, and this may well turn out to be a week to remember in Zuma’s political life. – Rapule Tabane