/ 1 December 2022

Phala Phala fallout: David Mabuza or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the question

File photo
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies are to rally behind him at Thursday’s NEC meeting while in search of a potential replacement

Deputy President David Mabuza is said to be preparing to move to a bigger office in the west wing of the Union Buildings as talks of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s resignation intensified on Thursday afternoon. 

Those close to Mabuza said that it was a “no brainer” that he would take over as the caretaker president if Ramaphosa resigns. 

Ramaphosa and his allies had been locked in meetings in his Cape Town offices on Thursday afternoon. 

Attempts to convince the president to stay put had allegedly fallen on deaf ears. 

ANC insiders said there was a frantic discussion among different factions about who would take over as the caretaker president. With the December elective conference just two weeks away, those close to ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile were already smelling blood. 

The Mail & Guardian understands that Mashatile will probably receive a nomination from the floor to become the ANC president should Ramaphosa bow out. Mashatile, who is also charged with the ANC engine room, was vying for deputy president but rumours have been rife that he was also eyeing the president position. 

Those linked to Mashatile and Ramaphosa’s detractors will probably fight to have Mabuza as the caretaker president, but Ramaphosa’s allies were still hoping to convince former president Kgalema Motlanthe to take over the reins for the next 90 days until the ANC elects its new president. 

Meanwhile, those close to presidential contender Zweli Mkhize have also been celebrating. Mkhize is the only contender who met the threshold to run for party president against Ramaphosa. 

One insider in the Mkhize camp said that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was also a candidate worth considering to become the caretaker president. 

An insider in the Ramaphosa faction said this was part of the consideration made during the Cape Town talks between the Ramaphosa faction. Dlamini-Zuma still intends to contest Ramaphosa and is considered the most senior leader in the Ramaphosa-led cabinet. 

Approached for comment by journalists on Thursday, Motlanthe poured cold water on talk of him taking on the post.

“If you have flames and you put ash on top of them, you have doused them. We are ash now,” he said.

Although Mabuza is the obvious choice to replace Ramaphosa should he opt to resign, two national executive committee (NEC) members in Ramaphosa’s faction said Motlanthe’s name has been raised as a possible interim president. 

“He is the easiest choice. He doesn’t belong to any faction and, unlike some of us, he is not trying to get elected in December. He will appeal to most of us,” the insider said. 

Motlanthe has stated publicly that he does not believe in the recycling of party leaders. But it’s understood that he would be the best possible option for some in the Ramaphosa camp who are against a Mabuza presidency. 

But those aligned to Mabuza have said that Motlanthe heads the ANC’s electoral committee, which needs to prepare for the party’s December conference. 

ANC leaders from various factions have been locked in meetings since Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to devise a plan for an internal battle ahead of a special sitting of the ruling party’s NEC on Friday.

The ANC’s national office bearers, also known as the top six, met on Wednesday in anticipation of the Phala Phala parliamentary report. 

According to insiders, Ramaphosa has indicated to those close to him that he is prepared to resign. But at least three of his lieutenants said he was advised against stepping down. 

Ramaphosa is said to have met his faction on Wednesday, where he presented two options: “resign or fight”. 

While those close to Ramaphosa are said to have insisted that he should not step aside, ANC leaders quickly grouped into different caucuses to plan for his possible resignation. 

Ramaphosa allies said there was a plan to threaten judicial review during Friday’s NEC meeting to buy time. Another plan was to tell ANC leaders to allow parliament to review the recommendations. 

“We have to wait for the parliament to decide on this matter. We can’t allow the president to resign on a matter that has not even sat in parliament as yet,” a Ramaphosa ally said. 

Ramaphosa, along with Gwede Mantashe, Mashatile and Mabuza, allegedly resolved that the matter should be discussed by the NEC on Friday. Mashatile sent out an advisory late on Wednesday night to NEC members that a special NEC meeting would be convened virtually to discuss the report. 

One NEC member, a Ramaphosa detractor, said ANC leaders needed to start thinking of a possible replacement. 

According to the South African Constitution, the deputy president, a minister or a speaker can assume the role of acting president.

It is also alleged that Motlanthe’s name was touted by former president Thabo Mbeki as a possible interim replacement for Ramaphosa should he be forced to step down. 

Mbeki has, on several occasions, cautioned Ramaphosa, saying the ANC needed to prepare for possible findings by state institutions that could go against the president. 

The M&G previously reported that Mbeki also raised this in separate meetings with top officials shortly after the death of ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.

One insider linked to the secretary general’s office said Mbeki had allegedly called Ramaphosa and ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe and met deputy president David Mabuza and Mashatile on separate occasions to discuss the matter.  

The insider said Mbeki told the senior officials that the ANC would need to prepare for the possible ramifications of a negative finding by state agencies on Phala Phala. 

Although all officials reportedly agreed with Mbeki, sources say neither the officials, the national working committee or the NEC have tabled the matter.

The panel report on Phala Phala has sent shock waves through the Ramaphosa faction regarding possible impeachment proceedings. 

Although the president’s allies are said to be planning to close ranks when the NEC meets on Friday, insiders said there is no plan on how he could recover from the recommendations by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, the chair of the panel investigating the Phala Phala matter. 

Ngcobo found that Ramaphosa needs to provide answers on the origin of the money that was stolen from his private game farm in 2020 and on efforts to recover it. 

“This is a very serious matter, which, if established, renders the violation of section 96 of the Constitution and Precca [Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act], a serious violation, and a serious misconduct,” the report said.

While there is talk around Motlanthe, the ANC’s constitution states that Mabuza is the person who would step in to replace Ramaphosa. It states that “the deputy president shall assist the president, deputise for him or her when necessary and carry out whatever functions that are entrusted to him or her by its national conference”. 

The ANC constitution also stipulates that in absence of the president and the deputy president, the secretary general shall assume the functions of the president.