POLITICS
09/01/2018 04:48 SAST | Updated 09/01/2018 04:49 SAST

Does Ramaphosa Have The Political Muscle To Take Down Zuma?

'It is tricky, but [Ramaphosa’s] people are working around the clock to find a neat and tidy solution [to the Zuma debacle].'

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
State President Jacob Zuma sings next to president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa during the ANC's 54th national conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

With ongoing speculation that ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is devising an elaborate scheme to oust his predecessor, tensions are once again starting to stir within the governing party –– less than a month after its national conference.

Ramaphosa is taking the battle straight to Jacob Zuma's front door, in what is building up to be a heated contest between the two centres of power. But does Ramaphosa have the political muscle to pin down the titleholder?

City Press reported that officials close to Ramaphosa said he was eager to occupy office and restore confidence in the country, amid fears of a backlash from structures and provinces that support Zuma.

To make it happen, the ANC's top brass, led by Ramaphosa, spent the past few days in KwaZulu-Natal –– Zuma's home province.

It is widely believed that on the sidelines of visiting Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini (who wields a strong political arm in KZN) and paying homage at the gravesites of former ANC leaders, meetings would be held between national and provincial leadership to try smooth over the path to Zuma's recall.

A source in the ANC's national executive committee, who spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity, said Ramaphosa backers were working "around the clock" to find a "tidy" solution to the Zuma question, in which he will leave office on his own will.

"This will have to be a smooth transition. We cannot afford further rifts in the party, should Zuma get the boot. His supporters will not let the ANC forget. It is trick, but [Ramaphosa's] people are working around the clock to find a neat and tidy solution," the source said.

"There have been talks of a deal [in which] Ramaphosa will not pursue Zuma legally, or in other way, over the issues relating to state capture and the charges against him. It is like an immunity deal. But it won't work, because the opposition parties will continue to pursue charges anyway... It is a stalemate."

The Witness newspaper, however, quoted ANC KZN provincial secretary Super Zuma saying talk of the president being recalled is mere rumour.

The question then remains: can Ramaphosa pull it off, and at what cost?

Politics expert Theo Venter believes he can.

"Now that Zuma is not president of the ANC, he can only attend NEC meetings by invitation. He can no longer look on while members discuss his leadership, and that eliminates a degree of intimidation... Now that members know Ramaphosa is in charge, a lot of political chameleons will emerge as well," Venter said.

"But if Ramaphosa does not succeed, it will weaken his camp significantly, and there will be a massive push back."

That push back is already being felt.

AFP/Getty Images
Protestors hold up placards reading 'Zuma must fall' during a demonstration of supporters of the Save South Africa (SaveSA) campaign, civil society organisations and political parties demanding South African President Jacob Zuma to resign on April 4, 2017 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. South Africa's powerful trade union federation Cosatu, a key coalition partner of the ruling ANC, on Tuesday called for embattled President Jacob Zuma to resign following a deeply unpopular cabinet reshuffle. / AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL SHEEHAN (Photo credit should read MICHAEL SHEEHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

READ: ANC Moves To Avoid Split Should Zuma Be Recalled.

Sunday Times reported that a group of disgruntled ANC members from North West who supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC presidency have vowed to boycott Ramaphosa's maiden speech –– at the party's 106th-anniversary rally in East London on Saturday.

Independent political analyst Molifi Tshabalala believes Ramaphosa does not wield enough support in the ANC to have Zuma ousted.

"The ANC's top five under Ramaphosa is divided. Ace Magashule does not recognise Ramaphosa as his leader as yet. Jessie Duarte will not be on board with the decision. The NEC is also divided, so any move to remove [Zuma] will be opposed," he said.

The Zuma camp still has plenty of influence, especially in the NEC, where the decision to recall him needs to be made by a majority vote. A close study of the party's newly elected NEC, which comprises 80 members, shows that 36 officials were from the Dlamini-Zuma slate.

READ: Zuma's Grip On The NEC Still Tight As A Vice.

Ramaphosa only secured 29. Seven members appeared on both slates ahead of the election, and eight appeared on neither.

The ANC president has made the first move, and the political mastermind who is Zuma would have taken heed. The NEC meets on Wednesday, and it is likely the question of Zuma's fate will be discussed. It will be at that meeting that Ramaphosa can assess just how much influence he has in the ANC's highest decision-making body.

The bell has been rung. The battle for total control of the ANC has begun.