POLITICS

Zuma Is Still Your President And You Really Shouldn't Be Surprised By That

“Nine lives got nothing on our cat.”

29/11/2016 15:57 SAST | Updated 29/11/2016 16:34 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Close but no cigar.

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It has not been a good weekend for ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. He was prickly at the press conference, following a marathon NEC meeting of the ruling party's top leadership, and prone to long diatribes.

Hairs were split and journalists chastised for the terms they were using. Long minutes were dedicated to the difference between a minister and an NEC member. (The answer: none.) And longer minutes still on the use of the phrase "vote of no confidence". (The answer: stop doing it.)

It was a long press conference with a short outcome: President Jacob Zuma was going nowhere despite the ministers who dared to move against him.

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And, in the quote of the day, Mantashe told South Africans that introspection is a process, "not an event".

Cue the social media memes of skeletons captioned: "South Africans, waiting for the ANC to self-correct".

It's been a restless weekend for South Africans as the top leadership structure of our ruling party remained locked in sessions. The regular ANC NEC meeting was extended after a surprise motion tabled by NEC member and tourism minister Derek Hanekom to that President Jacob Zuma resign following the many scandals that have plagued him.

He reportedly had the support of ministers Pravin Gordhan (finance), Aaron Motsoaledi (health), Thulas Nxesi (public works) and Naledi Pandor (science and technology), as well as Jackson Mthembu, chief whip in Parliament.

But, as was largely expected Zuma, emerged unscathed yet again. As Ferial Haffajee put it on Twitter, "Nine lives got nothing on our cat."

Those who were hoping for a repeat of the ANC's recall of former president Thabo Mbeki were sorely disappointed. The showdown that Hanekom triggered over the weekend was watered down and presented as a rather lively debate where the NEC as a magical, united entity reached a common conclusion to support its president.

"The NEC of the ANC has never voted on any issue. Members persuade one another to a point of consensus on every detail, no matter how difficult it may be," Mantashe told journalists. After a robust, and "at times difficult discussion the NEC did not support calls for the president to step down."

Sources who spoke to the media throughout the weekend told a different story, of a tense stand-off where ministers in favour of Zuma's stepping down actually threatened to resign.

But deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte told journalists that there was no talk of resignation and Mantashe said no one's jobs were being threatened after the call was put forward.

But the ministers would do well to be worried. Zuma has reshuffled his cabinet more than any of his predecessors. In his first term of office, Zuma had three cabinet reshuffles in three years. His heavy-handed removal of previous finance minister Nhlanhla Nene came amid reports that Nene and Treasury were blocking deals the president and his allies wanted passed. Those who stand in Zuma's way, particularly publicly, don't tend to last very long.

Mantashe, of course, is between a rock and a hard place. The closest thing we have to a de facto prime minister, he is presiding over a crumbling alliance. The former chairperson of the South African Communist Party has had to watch it be sidelined in the tripartite alliance. The third member of the alliance, trade union federation Cosatu, chose to put forward the ANC and South Africa's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as Zuma's successor, instead of Zuma's preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

But he had to do his job on Tuesday afternoon, and he did it with more than the usual Mantashe grumpiness. "We affirm [Zuma] as the president of the ANC and of the country," he told journalists in clipped tones. "There is no question of [our] support."

In retrospect, it was perhaps foolish for South Africans to expect anything different.