Where do we go from here?
Under normal circumstances, the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper is useful for protecting the behinds of casual jobseekers from hard and dusty pavements as they sit waiting for the odd bakkie to come and pick them up for a day’s work. And the Guptas’ ANN7 news channel is good for a laugh.
But these two outlets do have another valuable use – they channel the thoughts of the nation’s most notorious family. So if you want to know what instructions the Saxonwold Shebeen proprietors are barking at their servants – and what insults they are hurling at the enemies of their servants – it is advisable to tune in to the truth according to Ajay, Tony and Atul.
This week, the outlets were telling us how the Guptas felt the camp of their number one servant should react to last week’s tabling of a noconfidence motion in President Jacob Zuma.
Throughout the week, the heat was on the ministers who either spearheaded or supported the motion. The New Age quoted sources saying those ministers should practice what they preach and resign because they had “argued on moral grounds that the president must step down”. Others were calling on Zuma to fire them because “you cannot humiliate the president in this manner and not expect to pay the price”.
“For a while now, these ministers have been questioning his integrity. However, this is the first time they came out in the open as a bloc. The president cannot have people in his Cabinet who cannot be trusted ... The president needs to get tough. These people are not indispensable,” the ventriloquist news sheet said.
Another source demanded that “the president must act and he must act now”.
The paper even speculated that the Cabinet meeting had been canned to allow “the implicated ministers time to consider their predicament”.
Which brings us to the matter of what next after the unprecedented events of this week. Were there winners? Were there losers? Was it a draw? Is South Africa in a stalemate?
Zuma is no doubt heaving a sigh of relief that his troops recovered quickly from the ambush and mounted a spirited defence of him. Zuma will have been pleased that he was able to take to the podium alongside the heroic Raúl Castro, leader of a heroic socialist party, while still bearing the title of leader of a heroic African liberation movement.
But Zuma would have been a worried man – both about the effectiveness of the ambush and about the nature of the “victory”. The ambush meant that Zuma, the quintessential securocrat, had been failed by his networks in the state and in the ominous ANC security apparatus. The marathon defence at the national executive committee (NEC) hinged on two related things: that there should not be a vote on a motion of no-confidence and, failing that, the voting should not be by secret ballot.
When Zuma has been under siege previously, he has relied on an All Blacks level of brutishness to fight off his challengers inside and outside the ANC. Any possible rebellion would be crushed through some shrewd chairing by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who would tilt the balance in favour of the defenders. They would come running at the opposition at lightning speed and crush them before the discussion took on any serious shape. They would then slink away.
This time, there was no such thing. The proposers of the motion knew that there would be enough steam to withstand a stampeding attack from the other side. A lot of this had to do with the mood in the ANC and in the public.
Rather than bolster Zuma, the NEC’s rallying around him after the Constitutional Court’s damning judgment earlier this year served to discredit it and to alienate South Africans. Die-hard ANC supporters and members were so offended by their party’s behaviour that they decided to punish it in the August elections.
The party leadership’s response to the election results also did not help – it smacked of arrogance and hubris. The “collective responsibility” story and the refusal to recognise the elephant (or is it a mammoth?) in the room showed that the downslide was irreversible. Instead of seeing the Public Protector’s report on state capture as a further wake-up call, the ANC saw fit to use it as yet another stick with which to beat Thuli Madonsela. She was the devil and those she was implicating were merely victims.
The Zuma brigade further dug its grave by swatting away concerns by long-serving party veterans, who remained loyal despite the rot. These veterans were rubbished and told they did not matter. Civil society organisations, led by people sympathetic to the ANC, were tagged as enemies and told to shut up.
There is no turning back the tide now. If Zuma chooses to victimise the ministers, as he is being urged to do, he will open another onslaught from within the party. If he does nothing, it will embolden the silent critics to join in the clamour.
The next two months will be crucial in this battle. The celebratory January 8 anniversary occasion in hostile Gauteng will be closely watched by Zuma’s people to make sure it is not used to humiliate him. The NEC lekgotla at the beginning of the year will be the next occasion where the two sides will lock horns. By then, a lot of groundwork will have been done by loyalists and critics.
The battle is joined.