‘We told him long ago why he had to go’

Rivonia triallist Andrew Mlangeni says the Constitutional Court judgment and public protector’s findings against Jacob Zuma were among the reasons advanced for him to quit office. (Madelene Cronjé/M&G)

Rivonia triallist Andrew Mlangeni says the Constitutional Court judgment and public protector’s findings against Jacob Zuma were among the reasons advanced for him to quit office. (Madelene Cronjé/M&G)

Throughout the final days of the Jacob Zuma presidency, he persisted with the question: What have I done wrong?

But the head of the ANC’s integrity commission, Andrew Mlangeni, said that last year he provided Zuma with reasons why he needed to step down as the country’s president.

The reasons provided by the commission included the damning Constitutional Court judgment that found Zuma had violated his oath of office after he failed to implement the public protector’s report on Nkandla, and the Pretoria high court ruling to reinstate the 783 counts of corruption, fraud and racketeering against him.

“Sometime last year, my commission called him [Zuma] and requested him to please step down because his actions destroyed the organisation very badly,” Mlangeni said.

“The economy of the country went down; we [the ANC] lost very important elections [in 2016] under his leadership. There were all kinds of demands from all kinds of organisations in the country.
The bad publicity against him was too much for the organisation. The allegations of rape against him [which he was later acquitted of] and the over 700 corruption charges … those are things I can think of now. As the president, you don’t do all those things. We gave him all the reasons why he must resign. He refused,” said Mlangeni.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on Thursday — hours after Zuma announced his decision to step down — Mlangeni lambasted the former president for misleading the nation during his interview with the SABC on Wednesday when Zuma claimed that the Cyril Ramaphosa-led ANC had pushed him out without telling him what he had done wrong.

A former Rivonia triallist, Mlangeni blamed the ANC for having failed to act swiftly against Zuma, whom he accused of having caused the party irreparable damage.

During his interview with the SABC, Zuma was resolute he was not going anywhere despite the decision to recall him by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC). He accused new party leaders of failing to provide him with valid reasons for him to step down.

But few a hours later, Zuma made a U-turn when he announced his late-night resignation — sparking speculation that he might have been pressured by leaders close to him in the country and on the continent.

However, senior officials in the presidency told the M&G that Zuma had decided on his own not to defy the ANC.

“I was there with him for the past two days. He did it [the resignation] on his own. He just wanted to state his side of the story … that’s why he did the SABC interview. No, on that one, no one convinced him. He just couldn’t be subjected to the opposition voting him out,” said the presidency official.

Mlangeni agrees that Zuma had resigned because he had no other alternative.

“He must have realised that if he didn’t resign, he will be forced out through a motion of no confidence, which would have been supported by all the parties, including the ANC. He had no alternative but to say: ‘I am stepping down,’” said Mlangeni.

There were fears that the NEC’s decision to recall him could derail efforts to unite the party ahead of next year’s general elections.

The lead-up to Zuma’s resignation exposed differences among senior ANC leaders that are likely to persist after he is gone.

Cracks in the top six became apparent when leaders publicly contradicted each other about the NEC’s decision on Zuma’s fate.

In particular, secretary general Ace Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, both known Zuma loyalists, were accused of misleading the public about the NEC’s decision.

Several of their utterances have been at odds with those voiced by party chairperson Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Paul Mashatile, who spoke with urgency about the need for Zuma to “go now”.

Even after the NEC confirmed its decision to recall Zuma this week, Magashule claimed no deadline had been set for Zuma’s response. Just a few hours later, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba claimed that Zuma had, indeed, been given a deadline.

Now, even with Zuma out of office, differences remain on what further action will be taken.

In an address after Zuma’s resignation, Duarte said the party would furnish him with reasons why he had been asked to step down.

“I certainly think that the ANC leadership will make an effort to sit down with comrade Zuma and discuss in detail what might have been the issues that brought us to the point where we were when the NEC met,” she said.

Mantashe, however, has said that, as with Cabinet reshuffles that were effected by the president of the country, it was not a set requirement for the NEC to provide detailed reasons for its decision.

Meanwhile, presidency staffers told the M&G this week that they were uncertain about their future after Zuma’s departure. They believe Ramaphosa is likely to bring his own people to fill key positions in his private office.

A senior director in the presidency said it was only natural that employees would be worried about their future.

“Naturally, people working there need certainty. In truth, in recent years when there is change of guard, people in top positions are cut. There are people who would be worried. Those working there are clearly anxious at the moment.

“The foot soldiers need stability. Things grind to a halt in terms of decisions [that need to be made]. The wheels work in terms of forward planning. If we discuss something, it depends on decisions. It creates problems if it is not happening. It can create a measure of paralysis,” said the senior director.

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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