ANC sidelines constitution and its own processes in secret ‘talks’
Party puts itself above country in the way it is handling the ‘transition’
● Some people have been saying South Africa is experiencing its own Zimbabwe moment. The point being made is that Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempts to negotiate President Jacob Zuma’s exit resemble a silent, quasi coup d’état.
It is not clear what structure of the ANC gave Ramaphosa the mandate to individually negotiate an exit with a compromised and discredited president.
This uncertainty has led to unprecedented political developments that have put the work of the state on hold and led to a leadership vacuum as the head of state and government is grounded by the newly elected ANC president.
The postponement of the state of the nation address and the cancellation of the ANC’s special national executive committee meeting were clear indicators Ramaphosa wants to handle Zuma’s exit on his own terms. This shifted focus from the ANC to its president.
The ANC has always stated, through its previous secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, that it can only appeal to the conscience of its deployed president of the country to resign. This correct observation has clearly been lost on Ramaphosa.
Zuma’s nationwide unpopularity stems from how he has misgoverned the country, with a legacy of corruption perpetuated through a political syndicate that led to what is now known as state capture.
His recall was always going to be an urgent task for the new leadership of the ANC. However, the process towards achieving it would be important. What we have seen is insubordination against both the country’s constitution and ANC party processes.
The president of the country is elected by the National Assembly, upon which he or she ceases to be an MP. Unlike for ordinary MPs, the constitution is designed so that the removal of the president is not based on arbitrary machinations of their party. Sections 89 (impeachment) and 102 (motion of no confidence) spell out clearly the conditions under which a president should be recalled.
No one has authority to force the president to resign, not even their deploying political party.
When the ANC’s NEC in September 2008 committed such an action, giving Thabo Mbeki a deadline to resign, it was tantamount to a coup.
This point was made by the Rev Frank Chikane in his reflections about the events when he was directorgeneral in the Presidency. The principle holds true today, irrespective of our feelings about Zuma. The country has allowed Ramaphosa to transgress constitutionalism through a euphemism about “talks on handling the transition”. This transition rests on a fictitious argument about two centres of power.
The ANC wants society to believe that Zuma must go simply because there is a new leadership at Luthuli House. This argument is opportunistic as it is designed to mask Zuma’s inadequacies.
The party is inward looking, further creating distance between itself and society by being disingenuous on the reasons for a Zuma recall. If indeed the problem is two centres of power, that is for the ANC to resolve without dragging the country and state institutions into it. Zuma, the “constitutional delinquent”, as described by EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, is exploiting this. He resists leaving office by dragging out the “talks” and possibly making bizarre demands. He knows that constitutionally, Ramaphosa has no authority to embark on the path he chose.
Upon Zuma refusing to resign when approached by the ANC top six, the party should have called an NEC meeting to agree on his recall and gone to the National Assembly to table a motion of no confidence.
This is called a centering process and constitutionalism. Instead, this new leadership fell into Zuma’s trap and relied on meetings whose details may never be fully disclosed to the public. In so doing, Ramaphosa sacrificed a part of his credibility. One does not make a pact with the devil and hope to come out unscathed. One cannot even begin to reassure the country that Ramaphosa did not agree to certain demands by Zuma that could one day come back to haunt his leadership.
Through this approach of clandestine meetings Zuma will forever be a cloud over the future of this country. The problem is not Zuma but an ANC unable and unwilling to centre constitutionalism.
This was made clear by ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile. Speaking to investors in Cape Town, he categorically stated that the ANC had no appetite to oust Zuma through a parliamentary process.
Part of this comes from the desire to posture the ANC as in charge and wielding power even over a rogue president. On the other hand, the ANC may have been fearful that some of its MPs would vote against the directive of the party.
MPs now have some refuge in the Constitutional Court’s judgment on the secret ballot. They can refuse to be removed from office simply because they voted in a way that their party did not like.
The ANC is expected to act within the law. This time it has failed to do that, as it has on many occasions since Zuma became its president. The events of the past week show the dangers of a democracy dominated by one party.
South Africans, ahead of 2019, need to think deeply about how the political landscape ought to be redefined. The ANC as a political party is not about to be healed of its corrosive factionalism and internal power struggles. These are going to amplify until its next national general council in 2020 and national elective conference in 2022.
Even in the absence of Zuma at the helm, the 106year-old liberation movement is unable to think bigger than itself.
The primary reason the party wants to remove
Zuma is its fear that it may lose the elections in 2019. It is less about all the many reasons that have been put forward by opposition parties and compelling reasons derived from court judgments that led to massive public protests calling for Zuma to leave office.
The ANC stood by and defended Zuma, accusing civil society organisations of leading some form of colour revolution intended at regime change.
South Africans must be wary not to allow the sidelining of constitutionalism as the untangling of Zuma’s stranglehold on state institutions is being conducted by the new ANC leadership.
There must be great vigilance never to allow the ANC to put itself first, ahead of the country, as this will breed a new set of problems that would continue to erode the rule of law and undermine public accountability. This would lead to a form of quasidictatorship run from Luthuli House.
This was evident in Mashatile’s remarks when he said the buck stops at Luthuli House. That is untrue. In the exercise of public office, the buck stops in parliament — a song that needs to be played on repeat until it sinks in properly for the new ANC leadership.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of the ANC, and President Jacob Zuma at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria earlier this month. Has the party’s new leader fallen into Zuma’s trap?