ANC unity is a farce
Factions within and outside the party are piling on pressure to deal decisively with the president
The baffling display of solidarity by President Jacob Zuma and his top six ANC leaders this week was a smoke screen to calm a volatile political environment created by the Cabinet reshuffle. But away from the public gaze, the battles continue unabated – a factor raised by the Fitch Ratings agency as it downgraded South Africa to “junk” status on Friday, citing “tensions within the ANC”.
On Tuesday, Zuma appeared to have reined in his opponents, but those outside of the smaller ANC national working committee (NWC) want another shot at taking him on.
They are lobbying for a special sitting of the bigger national executive committee (NEC) – the only elected ANC structure that can remove a sitting president.
The plan is to resuscitate last October’s NEC motion of no confidence debate against Zuma.
Although Zuma has most NEC members on his side, the motion is his detractors’ strategy to keep the pressure on.
So divided is the ANC that various caucuses and gatherings were taking place this week as pro- and antiZuma groupings tried to get the upper hand.
Those supporting Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa met on Thursday night in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, during a memorial lecture for struggle hero Solomon Mahlangu. A heated branch meeting in Ward 17 of the Ehlanzeni region was addressed by Fish Mahlalela, the former Mpumalanga provincial chairperson.
A branch member told City Press that when Mahlalela asked members who was going to benefit if Zuma went, they responded: “It is the citizens who will benefit.” Only a few agreed that opposition parties would benefit. At another meeting held yesterday in Lydenburg in Mpumalanga, a group of very senior anti-Zuma ANC MPs and NEC members plotted another way forward.
An insider said they discussed the possibility of getting a stronger candidate to take Zuma on, citing disappointment with Ramaphosa, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize’s about-turn on former finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s axing.
The trio last week distanced themselves from Zuma’s decision to remove Gordhan on the basis of a questionable intelligence report.
A lobby for them to publicly correct the perception that Zuma neutralised them has failed – confirming, the meeting resolved, that they were not up to the task.
An alternative which was discussed, was to look at mobilising other ANC NEC members and MPs behind the other presidential hopefuls, including Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa.
This week, a planned memorial service in Limpopo for the late public service minister Collins Chabane also became a battle site, with pro- and anti-Zuma groupings vying to have the guest speaker be one of their own.
Yesterday, Zuma addressed Chabane’s tombstone unveiling ceremony in Xikundu in Malamulele. The ANC stalwarts and veterans are also set to pile pressure on the party to remove Zuma. Having failed to convince it to agree to a national consultative conference, the elders are considering arranging a similar conference to the 1955 Congress of the People, to be attended by ordinary South Africans and alliance partners.
The elders also want the ANC leadership conference in December postponed to clean up the “contaminated” party membership system.
“You can put that on the table, but the current people at Luthuli House are going to defy that,” a stalwart told City Press. “They are doing things by force most of the time and there is nothing we can do because we are not a constitutional structure.”
Senior anti-Zuma ANC members are also furious about a factional caucus meeting that they claim was held at the Union Buildings a day before this week’s NWC meeting, calling it an abuse of state resources.
City Press learnt that the leaked notes from the NWC meeting, sent “accidentally” via the ANC’s media list, were drawn up at the factional caucus meeting.
However, presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said: “No caucus was held at the Union Buildings. All meetings are held at Luthuli House.”
At the NWC, Zuma apologised for his role in the mismanagement of the Cabinet reshuffle. His backers say he was enraged by media leaks from the ANC’s top six.
“He called a meeting with the top six on Thursday [March 30] at about 6.30pm. Within 15 minutes, his request was made known to the media. This is despite the fact that personal texts were sent to the officials. This was also the case with Monday’s meeting,” said a source close to Zuma.
“He cannot be expected to work with such people, who betray his trust.”
Although other ministers were axed, the focus had been on Gordhan, Zuma’s allies lamented.
“Since December, Pravin has been busy on an offensive, mobilising people ... It is not something that started this week,” said a pro-Zuma NWC member about Gordhan’s appearances at memorial services for Ahmed Kathrada.
But Gordhan confidantes say these allegations were “rubbish” and “the main gripe between the two [Gordhan and Zuma] was around South Africa’s nuclear energy aspirations and the mismanagement of SAA”.
Gordhan said the allegations were “mischievous disinformation” because he had “always respected the office of the president”. He said there were various efforts afoot to discredit him or mislead the public.
“Many South Africans are very aware of a growing intolerance for a diversity or difference of views. More importantly, South Africans want good governance, an effective combating of corruption and sound fiscal management,” he said via SMS.
Sdumo Dlamini, president of labour federation Cosatu, told City Press this week there was a “third force element” at play in the country’s regime change agenda, which had been infiltrated by opposition parties and elements in the tripartite alliance.
He insisted public anger was not against Zuma, but the ANC government. “This is about the ANC; Zuma is the entry point. The main thing is to find anything that can cause anxiety and revolt, leading to calls for the ANC to be removed.
“Even if you remove Zuma today, the ANC will remain and it will still be under attack, and the same applies to the next president,” Dlamini said.
This week, Cosatu called on Zuma to resign. Last year, it threw its weight behind Ramaphosa’s presidential ambitions.
Mantashe said removing Zuma would be impossible because an ANC conference resolution stipulated that the party’s president would be the head of state. An ANC insider in Gauteng said this meant Zuma would remain president until the party’s leadership conference in December.
Unless Zuma seeks a third term as ANC president, the party need not keep him as president of the country until 2019.
The insider said: “His resignation is the only option. The resolution used to say that the ANC president is the ‘preferable’ president of the country. In Mangaung that word was taken out. We are going to feel it now.”
Meanwhile, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) plans to go to the Western Cape High Court and the Constitutional Court tomorrow, seeking an order to allow a secret ballot at next Tuesday’s motion of no confidence vote in Parliament.
It is asking for this ballot on the grounds that threats have been made by some ANC leaders against MPs who may not toe the party line.
National Assembly Speaker and ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete rejected the UDM’s demand, saying it had “no basis in law”. But the UDM will argue that Rule 103 of the National Assembly opens the door for a secret ballot, said UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and other MPs this week.
An ANC MP told City Press this week that no member of the party’s caucus would vote against the party line openly, “but give us a secret ballot, and Zuma will not be the president on the 19th”.
The MP said more than half of the ANC caucus wanted Zuma out, but were not prepared to publicly vote against him for fear of victimisation.
Alex Mashilo, spokesperson for the SA Communist Party, said its members who were ANC MPs were required to abide by ANC decisions, unless the ANC itself brought the motion.
Opposition parties – including the UDM, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the DA, the African People’s Convention, the Congress of the People and the African Christian Democratic Party – will look to upset Zuma’s 75th birthday celebrations on Wednesday by deflecting attention to a national day of action against him.