POLITICS

Don't Fool Yourself -- Zuma Is (Still) Stronger Than You Think

He's survived scandal upon scandal and has been declared politically unsalvageable more times than most. But Jacob Zuma is not going anywhere fast.

23/11/2016 11:56 SAST | Updated 23/11/2016 12:34 SAST
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Jacob Zuma (right) and Thabo Mbeki at the ANC's National Conference at Polokwane in 2007, where Zuma defeated Mbeki for the party leadership. Mbeki was eventually removed as head of state .

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President Jacob Zuma goes into this weekend's meeting of the African National Congress' (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) under real pressure, but not under real threat.

He has had a tumultuous week: the clamour about the public protector's report into so-called state capture (academics are still trying to define exactly what it means) has receded, he has gone on the offensive in KwaZulu-Natal and has stared down unhappy party veterans.

Zuma is still very much in command of the NEC, a body elected off the back of his slate in 2012 and which consists largely of civil servants — people who's livelihood depends on him remaining in charge. And that's important, because even though he might lose support of the top six (deputy president, secretary-general and deputy, national chairperson and treasurer), it's the NEC where any war to oust him will be waged.

Zuma is still very much in command of the NEC, a body elected off the back of his slate in 2012 and which consists largely of civil servants — people who's livelihood depends on him remaining in charge.

From the outside it is uncontestable that Zuma ought to be under unbearable political pressure. Events in December last year with the firing of Nhlanhla Nene was almost crippling and he came very close to a revolt in his cabinet. This was followed by Constitutional Court's take-down in March over the public protector's investigation into Nkandla and its pronouncement that Zuma violated his oath of office.

Even though he has been dogged by allegations around state capture and the Guptas, it was the ANC's disastrous municipal election results that should really have been the straw which broke the camel's back.

In the runup to the polls ANC insiders insisted that poor results would spell the end for Zuma and the damage wrought could not be allowed to continue.

But the elections came and went and the ANC leadership took "collective responsibility" for the loss of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane metro councils.

But the elections came and went and the ANC leadership took "collective responsibility" for the loss of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane metro councils.

The recent state capture ruckus and continued conflict around National Treasury, the South African Revenue Service and the National Prosecuting Authority have also not convinced the top-structures of the governing party that Zuma's continued presidency might actually not be good for party or country.

The group of ANC veterans that met with the party leadership this week — led by leading lights Mavuso Msimang, Wally Serote and Sipho Pityana and supported by, among others, Frank Chikane and Denis Goldberg — apparently don't hold out much hope their intervention will yield results.

Messages exchanged between veterans and seen by HuffPost SA reveal a deep distrust for the leadership. "Our action after a meeting where we were badly treated and dismissed will be justified," a message by a former Cabinet minister reads, before he continues that the veterans "need to occupy the moral high ground".

Messages exchanged between veterans and seen by HuffPo SA reveal a deep distrust for the leadership.

Zuma invited the vets to a follow-up meeting on Friday, when the three-day NEC meeting starts.

When Thabo Mbeki was famously "recalled" (one of the grand ANC additions to political lexicon in this country, along with "massification" and "state capture") by the NEC in 2008, he had lost control of the NEC and was no longer head of state.

He was therefore in a much weaker position than Zuma is now, even though he had none of Zuma's political albatrosses around his neck.

It's unclear what the actual mechanics of a president's recall or even a form of censure entails, but it probably can't happen without overwhelming support for such a proposal inside the NEC.

Msimang told HuffPost earlier this week he is in contact with a number of NEC members, and even leaders in the top six, all of which agree that Zuma's leadership is damaging to country and party. "But they're in the minority. And until that changes, we're teetering on the edge of the precipice."

ANC leaders who oppose Zuma "are in the minority. And until that changes, we're teetering on the edge of the precipice."Mavuso Msimang

Predicting what's going to happen with politics in this country is a fool's game, but there is nothing to indicate that the NEC is anything but pliant and supportive of its leader. There's been pockets of dissatisfaction with Zuma, sure, most notably in the Parliamentary caucus (which has no executive powers) and the Gauteng ANC (a province in the minority). Some in the ANC have said privately the timeline for action against Zuma has "drastically shortened", that growing disillusionment makes his leadership "untenable" and "forces are in motion".

That might all be true, but from the outside looking in, it's pretty clear the man from Nkandla is not about to vacate his position anytime soon.