Brace for one more week before Zexit

President Jacob Zuma will not vacate office until after the ANC’s special national executive committee (NEC) meeting on Saturday February 17, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

Amid speculation that Zuma would announce his resignation this weekend, party secretary general Ace Magashule told the M&G that no decision on the state president’s fate was expected until next weekend.

Only the party’s NEC is able to recall an ANC-deployed president.“We can’t expect any decision before the NEC [meets],” said Magashule.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa updated the ANC caucus in Parliament on the negotiations with Zuma on Thursday but was scant on details, although he assured MPs that progress was being made.

An NEC member who attended the caucus told the M&G that this had created an impression that Zuma would resign “within days”. “[He will resign] very soon. In days, not in weeks,” the NEC member said.

The ANC this week cancelled a special NEC meeting that was expected to recall Zuma after he rejected proposals by party officials to step down voluntarily. Zuma’s attitude angered senior ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa, who, according to insiders, told the party’s national working committee (NWC) on Monday that he was giving up on Zuma.

ANC deputy president David Mabuza expressed disappointment during the NWC meeting, saying Zuma’s response displayed disrespect towards the new ANC leadership.

ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile confirmed to investors at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town that Zuma had rejected the party’s request for him to step down.

“President Zuma basically said to us: ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m not convinced by you guys, so I’m not going to resign. You can go back and report to the NWC and NEC that I said I’m not resigning.’

“We tried to persuade him and we spent a lot of time, but we said it’s fine. We agreed that if the president does not want to resign voluntarily, we will recall him like we did with president [Thabo] Mbeki,” said Mashatile in a leaked recording.

The impasse between Zuma and the ANC’s top six officials saw the State of the Nation address (Sona), scheduled for this past Thursday, being postponed indefinitely.

Zuma showed no sign of stress at Tuesday’s Cabinet committee meetings in Cape Town. He was scheduled to officiate at the Ubuntu Awards ceremony on Saturday, but that has also been postponed until after Sona.

ANC NEC member and Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu told the M&G that Zuma was carrying on with his duties as president of the republic.

“He [Zuma] is in a good mood and he is doing his job, which is that of the president of the country. [The] programme of government must continue no matter what,” said Zulu.

Magashule said he was confident Ramaphosa and Zuma would be able to find a solution that would unite the country and the ANC. “So, it is up to the NEC to hear the president [Ramaphosa]. The president must just give us the directive as the leadership of the ANC,” he said.

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe asked South Africans to be patient with the ANC during the transition.

“My view is that people must allow the ANC to deal with its own issues. As they shout and make noise, they are creating an impression that we do this to appease you. It’s not about that; it’s about trying to do what is right and good for the country. You don’t resolve a problem and create a bigger problem. If you are reckless, you are going to alienate a big portion of the ANC membership. If you are careful, you will actually unite them and make them agree to the decision,” Mantashe said.

He dismissed suggestions that the ANC would lose any momentum gained since Ramaphosa’s election.

“There’s no momentum being lost. People [South Africans] want you [the ANC] to process things. It is the elite that has a view and want to see the back of Zuma now-now-now. The ANC cannot succumb to that,” said Mantashe.

A senior ANC leader who attended the party’s parliamentary caucus on Thursday said it appeared that Ramaphosa was being careful to not divide the ANC with his decision.

“What excites me is that he [Ramaphosa] speaks like somebody who has actually governed before and knows the bigger picture … He seems to be intent on taking a decision which is less damaging,” the NEC member said.

The senior ANC leader said Ramaphosa enjoyed the support of the majority of ANC parliamentary caucus members.

“The president was very articulate on the challenges and sensitivity of the transition. And the caucus was supportive of the direction that the president is taking.”

Zulu warned that the party would not be directed by outside forces and “is not going to allow anyone to set an agenda” for the organisation. “We really cannot allow other people to keep on misdirecting us,” she said.

In a bid to ease uncertainty among South Africans about Zuma’s position as president, Ramaphosa released a statement on Tuesday, saying they had had fruitful discussions.

The pair met at Zuma’s official Tuynhuys residence in Cape Town, and the discussion led to the postponement of a special NEC meeting scheduled to discuss Zuma’s fate.

“This is a challenging time for our country. Both President Zuma and myself are aware that our people want and deserve closure,” Ramaphosa wrote. “The constructive process we have embarked on offers the greatest opportunity to conclude this matter without discord or division.”

But the initial plan had been to recall Zuma on Wednesday night at the special NEC meeting, Mashatile said. The ANC top six met with Zuma on Sunday night, but the president refused to resign and said he was prepared to face a motion of no confidence or even impeachment.

“Yes, a motion of no confidence will affect President Zuma, impeachment will affect him personally. He is prepared to go through that, we are not. And we made it clear to him,” Mashatile told the Mining Indaba.

South African Communist Party deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said Ramaphosa’s statement could only mean that Zuma has agreed to step down. “We appreciate that the postponement of the NEC [meeting] because this, in a way, does confirm he is willing to go,” he said.

Mashatile said the top six officials were intent on Ramaphosa delivering Sona, which is why they asked the presiding officers to postpone it. “The one who is leaving can’t give a message for the future … The buck in this country stops with Cyril Ramaphosa. We’ve worked with President Zuma for years, but now it’s time for change,” he said.

The SACP expects Zuma’s resignation in the next few days, Mapaila said. “The ANC must realise that the goodwill they received from the country after the conference will dissipate soon if they don’t deal with President Zuma. The ANC has to act very fast and swiftly, and confidently. Cyril’s interventions [in government] will become meaningless if he doesn’t deal with the elephant in the room, which is President Zuma.”

One of Zuma supporters’ main concerns, the M&G has learned, is that Ramaphosa’s leadership might use the state capture inquiry to target Zuma’s allies. Ramaphosa supporters told the M&G that a presidential pardon was not an option.

Zuma faces legal headaches after he finally calls it quits

In the face of mounting uncertainty about his political future, President Jacob Zuma faces snowballing legal battles that have likely been the biggest influence on his stubborn refusal to vacate office.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is yet to say when it will announce whether or not it will prosecute 783 counts of corruption, fraud and money laundering against Zuma, saying the team set up to consider the president’s representations is still looking at submissions.

Zuma last week made fresh representations to the NPA as to why he should not face corruption charges anew. He is apparently questioning the credibility of the KPMG auditor who compiled a 2006 forensic report that saw Zuma being charged with fraud and corruption. The charges were withdrawn in 2009.

The detailed arguments of Zuma’s new representations have, however, not been made public. His lawyer, Michael Hulley, refused to comment on Thursday and referred questions regarding Zuma’s representations to the NPA.

Although the NPA has said the details of Zuma’s submission are confidential, the Democratic Alliance has asked to be given access to the arguments because it is the main litigant in the case.

NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said the request by the DA was still being considered. He also said he did not know when the NPA would announce its decision on Zuma, despite initial plans to have the matter concluded within two to three weeks.

“There is no timeline. The NDPP [national director of public prosecutions] will engage the team [of prosecutors] and after that, he will then be in a position to brief the nation,” Mfaku said. “At this stage you must remember that the team will be looking at the submissions and, based on that, they will advise how much time they would need.”

Legal analyst Phephelaphi Dube said it was unlikely that Zuma’s questioning of the KPMG audit report would be enough to sway the NPA against reinstating the charges against him.

“I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on whether the author of the report is discredited because there are other factors that would warrant a reinstitution of those charges,” Dube said.

“I would think that that issue is a red herring because we need to consider the fact that Schabir Shaik was convicted and did serve a little bit of time. The real concern, I would think, is the passage of time and whether evidence still exists and if there are still witnesses,” she added.

The protection Zuma may hope to enjoy through the apparent allegiance of NPA boss Shaun Abrahams is also under threat and is the subject of a separate legal battle. Zuma will appeal a December high court ruling that set aside Abrahams’s 2015 appointment, declaring it unlawful because it followed the improper removal of his predecessor Mxolisi Nxasana through a R17.3-million golden handshake.

Nxasana has accused Zuma of lying about him willingly vacating his position and will also appeal the high court ruling for him to repay his severance package.

Meanwhile, uncertainty over Zuma’s future has led to speculation that he might intentionally delay the work of the commission of inquiry into state capture by holding off on signing its governing regulations.

Last month, Zuma set terms of reference for the inquiry, which will be chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, but is yet to complete the final step of signing off the regulations, which will allow the process to proceed officially.

Dube said that, based on Zuma’s previous conduct when it came to legal matters, it was likely that he would attempt to frustrate the commission’s work.

“I think if we consider how he has behaved in the past on matters of litigation, it would suggest that he does abuse processes in order to buy time. So, reading into that, one would suggest that it is a possibility,” she said.

“And I think the Pretoria high court handing down the punitive costs [in the spy tapes appeal] was an indication that the court was aware that this is a clear strategy of his.” — Dineo Bendile

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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