ANC: It’s status quo vs the future
Many ANC leaders are seeking to write their names in the history books as the ones who disapproved of their president’s leadership, as ANC factions battle it out, writes Rapule Tabane
Friday, March 31 – when President Jacob Zuma announced his Cabinet reshuffle without consulting his fellow ANC top six officials – will go down in history, in my opinion, as the day he compromised his already diminishing powers.
In effect, he gave them the excuse they had been looking for for a long time to take him on publicly. While the lack of consultation allowed him to proceed with the Cabinet changes he wanted, it opened an avenue – a permanent one – for others to feel free to criticise him with gay abandon.
Even though ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize regretted the public nature of the criticism, they did not withdraw their sentiments.
Zuma got his reshuffle but unleashed a practice that had been unheard of in the ANC. That of the party officially criticising its own president’s reshuffle.
Even when the party turned against then president Thabo Mbeki 10 years ago, it could not openly distance itself from his actions, but would make veiled hints. Only the tripartite partners, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and labour federation Cosatu, had the freedom to take Mbeki on. Now the floodgates are open. There is no stopping them. The SACP has been at the forefront of attacking Zuma at every opportunity, apparently leading to threats of physical harm against their leader Solly Mapaila.
Then Cosatu joined suit. Not only did it criticise the president, it went further and shut the door in his face. He is now persona non grata at Cosatu gatherings, where the members no longer want to listen to him.
On social media, senior members such as Derek Hanekom, who was dropped from Cabinet after he proposed a motion of no confidence against Zuma, feel emboldened to speak out against the president.
This week when Ramaphosa openly contradicted Zuma on the alliance partner’s voice in ANC matters, it signalled that Zuma had lost control.
Whereas Zuma appealed that Cosatu should focus on trade federation business and leave ANC business alone, Ramaphosa emphatically urged them to poke their noses into ANC affairs, as they also own the liberation movement.
This is despite Zuma warning his critics within the party at the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting not to push him any further.
Speaking at a Cosatu central committee meeting following the ANC NEC meeting, SACP leader Blade Nzimande said as communists they would not be begging for positions. He added that they were serving in government not for the benefit of an individual but for the good of the people of the country. What Zuma had not reckoned on was that the ANC machinery that in the past would be aimed at anyone who criticised his leadership would turn against him. It now celebrates criticism against him. In fact, the reason the crescendo of noise is increasing against him, is that it is now a heroic act to speak out against him.
Whereas many held out hope that a proposed motion of no confidence against Zuma at the NEC meeting would succeed, the NEC members who were supporting it were doing it to mark their distance from the man. Despite Zuma’s warnings against any such motion in future, this is not the last motion he will face.
Many ANC leaders want the record to reflect that whatever the president has done, he was not acting in their name or that of the ANC.
The axe he held over Cabinet ministers who were also his critics has been swung and is now blunt. He has played that card and it’s done. In fact, anyone else who would become Zuma’s victim henceforth, would be elevated to a martyrdom of sorts. They will wear it as a badge of honour.
But all this does not mean Zuma is defeated and finished. Far from it. His credibility is at its lowest, but his political power is still evident in the way the NEC defeated the motion of no confidence against him. Although he has tended to retreat to KwaZulu-Natal every time he wants to communicate his core thoughts, he still enjoys significant ANC support in every province. He still has at least one TV station specifically dedicated to rebutting criticism against him and the Guptas. This is also supported by full-time Twitterati who exist to present “alternative facts” to mainstream media coverage. And through an intricate and delicate process of eggdancing, he has kept a number of lawsuits and criminal charges against him at bay for years now. And the Cabinet is predominantly in support of him. But what will ultimately decide whether Zuma serves until 2019 will be the ANC’s conference in December. Before then, there is the slim chance of the courts instructing the Speaker of Parliament to allow a secret ballot during a motion of no confidence against him that offers some hope for those who want him out. But I doubt the courts will want to tell the Speaker what to do. If a secret ballot were allowed, there would be no doubt in my mind many ANC MPs would vote him out. But in an open vote, where their R1 million-plus jobs are at stake, they would not want to risk it. For now we must prepare for a dirty battle for the party’s leadership positions. I suspect we will see what ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini meant when she said everyone has their own smallernyana skeletons. Fake news will also be big. Let’s not forget how Donald Trump incredibly walked into the White House against all odds on the back of fake news that his supporters were fed and believed. Fake news and skeletons will be tumbling out of cupboards as candidates try to discredit one another. The ANC that wants to acknowledge that the party is in crisis will be pitted against the one that believes in not hanging its dirty linen in public. It’s the status quo against the future.