Ramaphosa tiptoes around Zuma’s removal

Cyril Ramaphosa (right) is stepping carefully around the issue of removing Jacob Zuma (left) as president of the country. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Cyril Ramaphosa (right) is stepping carefully around the issue of removing Jacob Zuma (left) as president of the country. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is unlikely to support calls by his supporters to remove President Jacob Zuma from office with immediate effect as that could compromise efforts to unite the party before the 2019 general elections, ANC insiders say.

Zuma’s future as the country’s president is expected to dominate debates at the ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting, which started in Pretoria on Thursday.

Although talking tough on corruption before and after the ANC’s elective conference in December, the new ANC president appears to have adopted a conciliatory approach towards Zuma.

It has emerged Ramaphosa even apologised to Zuma during their meeting at John Langalibalele Dube House in Durban two weeks ago for publicly expressing his views about Zuma’s rape accuser Fezekile Kuzwayo, popularly known as Khwezi. Ramaphosa said during an interview with 702 late last year that he believed Khwezi’s story about her alleged rape.

“She put her evidence before the court and, when you are dealing with issues of gender-based violence, rape, the general tendency is to sometimes dismiss.
I know how difficult and painful it is for a woman to garner up the courage and say, ‘Yes, I was raped’. It must be one of the most difficult decisions she had to make, so, yes, I would believe her,” Ramaphosa told 702 host and political analyst Karima Brown.

Kuzwayo died in 2016, 10 years after Zuma was acquitted of her rape.

Ramaphosa also surprised many of his supporters when he said this week, if Zuma was to leave before the end of his term, he should not be humiliated in the process.

“Whatever we do, we need to deal with this matter with the level of maturity it requires, with the proper decorum. We should never do it in a way that is going to divide the nation. It is a very delicate matter,” he said in an interview with eNCA.

Senior government officials close to Zuma said this week the former ANC president was taken aback by Ramaphosa’s apology.

“He [Zuma] expected him to tell him to vacate the office immediately but instead Ramaphosa apologised for having made the comments publicly,” the official said.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Tyrone Seale this week could not confirm or deny reports about the apology.

“This was a private meeting between President Zuma and the deputy president [in his capacity as president of the ANC]. The office of the deputy president is unable to provide information on the content of the discussions,” Seale said.

ANC spokeperson Zizi Kodwa also said he could not comment on discussions that happened behind closed doors. “How could anyone else know what was discussed in a meeting of two people, and even speculate about what was discussed? President [Ramaphosa] reported to the special NEC in East London [last week] about his meeting with President Zuma. No such issue was discussed,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s supporters this week insisted they would still push for Zuma’s recall.

“The meeting will discuss Zuma’s recall. The issue is no longer whether Zuma will be pushed out or not, it’s how it should be handled. There is no intention to humiliate him. The ANC resolution on one centre of power is clear … it must be the guiding line,” one said.

A senior ANC Youth League leader sympathetic to Zuma said, although there was no doubt that Zuma would have to vacate his office before the end of his term, there was no need to humiliate him.

“For the sake of SA, Zuma must go, but the how part of it is critical. There is no need to discuss his recall in the NEC. The senior ANC officials including Ramaphosa must engage him. They must give him an exit package similar to that of Mugabe. The old man [Zuma] is prepared to go,” the youth league leader said.

Already, some senior ANC leaders have rejected some of Zuma’s reported conditions for him to leave office, including appointing ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as an interim president and retaining Zuma’s ministers in key portfolios such as energy and state security.

Zuma’s supporters have also argued that he should also be given immunity from prosecution. He faces 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

A senior provincial ANC member who is part of the Zuma camp said their “prepared position” should Zuma’s removal be raised in the NEC was that the president should not be the subject of a “witch-hunt”.

“Our argument is that there needs to be a thorough assessment of government and not a simple removal of the president through the two centres of power argument. There would be two centres of power if President Zuma had stood as ANC president. He did not.

“Automatically removing him from office will create a precedent that will haunt the ANC. It will mean that Comrade Cyril, for example, should not be allowed to complete his term should he no longer be president of the party.

“A decision to recall the president should be based on a thorough assessment of the functioning of government as the ANC manages this transition. There cannot be a witch-hunt targeting President Zuma alone,” he said.

“The president is a deployee of the ANC. If the ANC decides that he must step down, we don’t think that there should be conditions per se. If the ANC recalls you, it owes you nothing. I don’t see the president refusing to do so should the ANC take that decision. He is a loyal and disciplined cadre of the movement.”

The source said the Zuma camp would continue to argue that the state capture commission of inquiry should be broadened and backdated to cover the apartheid era.

“We have the commission. We believe the terms of reference should be broadened and that it must investigate all forms of state capture. In its present form, it is investigating Zuma capture. Zuma is not the state,” he said.

He said they would also argue that Zuma should not be “embarrassed”.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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