FORCES GEAR UP FOR THE ZUMA WAR
As massive pressure builds up against Zuma over his reshuffle, the question remains whether it will be enough to finally get him out of office
I ntense mobilisation is under way to push out President Jacob Zuma, who has become increasingly isolated after his shock reshuffle this week.
The midnight announcement, which included the dismissal of finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, has resulted in a rebellion within the ANC and widespread calls across society for him to be ousted.
The funeral and memorial services for ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, who was critical of Zuma, were used as the springboard for this campaign.
The reshuffle sparked an unprecedented public face-off between Zuma and half of the ANC’s top six in Luthuli House, who rejected his decision and publicly distanced the party from his choices.
A motion of no confidence in Parliament – initiated by opposition parties, but supported by ANC MPs who are anti-Zuma – is being planned.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA have announced that they are talking to ANC MPs, many of whom seem receptive to the idea.
But there are concerns that momentum could be lost as Parliament is in recess and only resumes on May 9.
And there are concerns that Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete, who is also the national chairperson of the ANC, may drag this out to make sure temperatures cool down.
She is currently overseas on parliamentary business and is only due back on Thursday.
Those backing the motion also fear that Zuma’s allies may have time to lobby MPs one by one while in their home districts.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said yesterday he disagreed with Zuma but that he was not about to write the ANC’s obituary because “the ANC deals with many issues and for 105 years it has resolved them”. He defended his breaking ranks with Zuma. “I am doing what I think is right and I am doing it to the best of my ability,” Mantashe said.
He said despite criticism from Zuma’s backers that he was defying his authority, his message to grass roots ANC members remained that “there is a Cabinet reshuffle that has been done without proper consultation with the ANC”.
ANC Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize said this reshuffle was different from previous ones, where there had been genuine consultation with senior officials.
Mkhize said while he respected Zuma’s prerogative, it was important “to ensure that such decisions made Zuma’s backers concluded in recent weeks that it was safe to get rid of opponents such as Gordhan. They advised him that ‘it is high time to move’ can be owned, justified and defended by the leadership collective”.
He highlighted his discomfort with Gordhan’s recall from an important international investment promotion tour.
Yesterday, Mkhize attended the official opening of the Westgate Grange social housing project in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, over which Zuma presided. He was part of the group of officials who shared a photo opportunity with the president, but left the event before Zuma spoke.
Earlier, Mkhize spent time speaking to Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who is also a fellow national executive committee (NEC) member. She, too, left the function.
Addressing the event, KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC chairperson and acting premier Sihle Zikalala defended Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle, saying serving in government was “like a relay”.
He said all those who were appointed should be “responsible enough” to “accept when it is time to hand over to others”.
In his speech, Zuma, who cracked jokes despite looking strained, made no mention of the reshuffle or the calls for his resignation over it.
‘ZUMA’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED’
SA Communist Party (SACP) second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila told City Press Zuma’s days were numbered.
The ANC’s alliance partner emerged from its politburo on Friday night with a message that it wanted him to resign.
Despite the fact that its deployees in government were inclined to leave, the SACP took a “strategic decision” for them to stay inside and fight as government did not belong to Zuma. Mapaila acknowledged that Zuma’s loyalists would “come for us”, but said they did not have monopoly over the ANC.
The SACP is now talking about a mass political programme to counter Zuma, and is planning a national imbizo of organisations on April 22.
ZUMA HAD TO SHOW STRENGTH
City Press has heard that Zuma’s backers concluded in recent weeks that it was safe to get rid of opponents such as Gordhan. They advised him that “it is high time to move” to avoid looking weak and being seen to be afraid of ratings agencies and big business.
New Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was only expected to “tinker with fiscal policies here and there, where we need radical economic transformation”, said an NEC member who is close to Zuma.
“So, we dealt with Treasury. The rand will go down and it will pick up again because we are not going to come up with major policy changes.”
Strategists in the Zuma camp also noted that Gordhan and those ministers who had challenged Zuma’s authority had “no constituencies” in the ANC and would be unable to destabilise his support.
MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE
Zuma’s backers are confident that they will muster the 201 votes needed to stave off a motion of noconfidence and ensure his survival. Said one: “It is not easy for an ANC member, especially the backbenchers, to take an anti-ANC position.”
An ANC MP, who has been lobbied by the opposition, said this was a desperate move by opposition parties which was unlikely succeed. The MP also questioned the timing of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mantashe’s public criticisms of Zuma, saying it was most likely about the ANC’s succession battle.
“They voted for and supported Zuma all along, despite being cautioned. Mantashe would not listen to anything about Zuma in Mangaung.
“Now they want to use people for their own project. When did they realise the problems with Zuma?”
PRESSURE ON MBETE
EFF leader Julius Malema has threatened to go to court if Mbete does not schedule an urgent sitting.
“If she does not agree, we will take her to court for the court to compel her to agree. She does not have a choice,” he said.
Maimane has publicly revealed that he has been approached by ANC MPs who have promised to vote with him. Malema has said his party was talking to ANC members to support the motion.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa confirmed that he was lobbying ANC MPs, adding that the ground was fertile with angry ANC members.
“Yes, the campaign is on. I have never seen so much anger, including in the ANC,” he said.
“We are giving them a chance to prove themselves, and that is why there is a need for an urgent sitting. If they vote otherwise, then they are hypocrites.”
The EFF has also applied to the Constitutional Court to order Mbete to institute impeachment or disciplinary proceedings against Zuma for conduct associated with the Nkandla scandal, “including lying to Parliament on numerous occasions”.
Up until now, the pro-Zuma faction has held sway and those who have been uncomfortable have previously stayed away from the debate.
In the last no-confidence debate, held in November last year, 214 MPs voted against it, 126 in favour, with one abstention and 57 absent.
The EFF is targeting 70 to 80 ANC MPs to vote with it, based on the results of the last motion.
MORE SHOCK DECISIONS
Gigaba said he was “shocked when I got the call to be the finance minister on Thursday night”.
“I was given no reason, but I will perform my duty,” he said.
“I will not betray our people by allowing individual or special interests to prevail over the public good. Therefore, I will ask sceptical members of the opposition, the media and the public to judge me on my actions in the coming months, not [rely on] speculation and rumours.”
The dismissal of energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson came as a shock even to those in the Zuma faction. Joemat-Pettersson is known to be a close ally of Zuma. “If we are all this surprised about her removal, imagine how shocked she must be,” said a close associate, who suggested that Joemat-Pettersson was removed for her slow movement on nuclear procurement.
“When you are given the terms of reference, you stick to the terms of reference and not add frills that you have not been given. She wasted time on things she was not told to do,” said the source.
THE WAY FORWARD
City Press heard there will be no mass resignation of Cabinet ministers, as had been anticipated. The idea is to mobilise society to force Zuma out.
Ramaphosa has announced that he is remaining in Cabinet. “I am staying to serve our people in government. I made my views known. There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance, who was serving the country with absolute distinction, with great ability, and he has proven that he is a talented person…”
The idea was also that resigning would leave a vacuum, as Zuma could easily replace the ministers in any case.
“What happened to all those people who resigned in solidarity with [former president Thabo] Mbeki [in 2008]?” said an ANC insider.