It is now up to President Jacob Zuma to decide whether he wants a “messy” exit that could see him consigned to the “dustbin of history” without presidential benefits, or a “dignified exit” where he steps down voluntarily.
This is the view of at least four members of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) ahead of the powerful body’s inaugural meeting in East London on Wednesday.
But the politicians, who spoke to News24, did not agree that Wednesday’s meeting should be the place to recall Zuma should he refuse to step down.
This comes as some NEC members are pushing for the newly elected leadership to recall Zuma and get the party on a “clean slate” ahead of the all-important 2019 national elections. Zuma has shown no intention of stepping down, with the presidency releasing a statement that he would meet with his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, in Durban on Thursday – a day after the scheduled NEC meeting.
The NEC members, who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, all agreed that Zuma was a “liability”, but want the party to avoid a “divisive” battle over his fate.
A close Ramaphosa ally told News24 that the best option was for Ramaphosa to meet Zuma over the matter. He said it was expected that they would have had a one-on-one meeting the past weekend in KwaZulu-Natal. It is unclear whether this meeting took place.
“Ramaphosa was supposed to tell Zuma that the odds are stacked against him. He could choose a dignified exit or a messy one,” the source said.
Ramaphosa was on a charm offensive in the province on Sunday and Monday, meeting with the party’s rival groupings in the province, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and paying homage to past ANC presidents from the province.
The visit was an attempt to soothe the wounds of the province’s embattled leadership after none of its candidates made it to the party’s top six.
The sources all agreed that it was now a matter of when, and not if, Zuma steps down. But the priority was not “alienating his KZN support base”.
Said a source: “It would be better if Zuma stepped down so that they (KwaZulu-Natal) don’t feel that their man was pushed out, but see that he had a good exit as he decided on his own that he will step down.”There is a fear that an alienated KwaZulu-Natal could cost the already weakened party in the national elections as it contributes the lion’s share of votes.
“We will get a report on the outcome of Ramaphosa’s engagements with Zuma and if they were not successful, then the second internal process would be for the NEC to remove him,” the source said.
One source believed that, if the Ramaphosa/Zuma talks failed, it would not be difficult for the NEC to oust him.
“People who supported him (Zuma) are beginning to sing a different song to retain their ministerial positions. They still want blue lights,” he said.
Ministers close to Zuma who made it to the NEC include Bongani Bongo (State Security), David Mahlobo (Energy), Fikile Mbalula (Police) and Nomvula Mokonyane (Water and Sanitation).
The Star newspaper reported on Monday that Mbalula told a mini-rally that Zuma’s recall would help to improve the image of the ANC.
“The ANC has not been criticised for implementing its own policies. It has been held to ransom in relation to the presidential figure in terms of the issues that arise around that particular individual. We have a new president now and going forward, we are confident that we will build on where others have left off,” Mbalula was quoted as saying.
‘The old man is a liability’
Two other NEC sources said it would be best to wait out Zuma’s recall.
“We understand that the old man is a liability to the congress. He is hurting us but removing him when we are trying to champion the unity agenda will only take us back,” one source said.
If Zuma does not resign he is expected to face an “embarrassing” and “messy” option of a Parliamentary recall or impeachment process.
The Constitutional Court ruled on December 29 that Parliament had failed in its Constitutional duty to put mechanisms in place to hold the president accountable.
Parliament has since called an urgent meeting of its subcommittee dealing with the review of the National Assembly rules to finalise the drafting of the rules that deal with the removal of a president from office. The committee is expected to meet on Thursday and Friday.