President Jacob Zuma's eleventh-hour decision to appoint a judge to head a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture could be seen as a desperate attempt to save himself from being recalled by the ANC's national executive committee (NEC).
Zuma's announcement comes amid growing speculation the NEC, which is to meet on Wednesday, is planning to recall him as state president. On Tuesday evening, he announced that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had chosen his deputy, Judge Raymond Zondo, to head the probe –– less than 24 hours before the NEC is due to meet.
This is despite Zuma's failed bid to set aside the remedial actions in former public protector Thuli Madonsela's "State Of Capture" report, which recommended Mogoeng Mogoeng choose the judge. Even though the Pretoria High Court in December found that Zuma's review application was "ill-advised and reckless", the president still appealed the ruling.
The appeal led to widespread criticism that Zuma was stalling and not sincere about appointing the commission that he promised to expedite.
President Zuma says while he has "reservations" about legality of North Gauteng High Court directive that CJ Mogoeng appoint judge, he has decided #StateCapture inquiry "deserves urgent attention". Mogoeng selected Zondo to head inquiry— Ranjeni Munusamy (@RanjeniM) January 9, 2018
Political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, said by Zuma effectively deciding to change his mind about the appeal at the last minute, he is seeking to gain political mileage and dismiss calls for him to be removed because of his reluctance to appoint the commission.
"He is seeking to remove this as a reason for calling for him to go... His statement is telling: it does not seem like he believes he has to comply with the recommendations. It seems like he is reluctant but it complying nonetheless. It is half-hearted," Mathekga said.
"He has done this strategically to soften the blow ahead of the NEC meeting. But it may be too late."
Politics expert, Keith Gottschalk, said Zuma may have realised that there is no way he could win the appeal.
"The announcement could be a way to get the issue out of the way ahead of the NEC meeting... But with two years of scandal behind him, this one thing may not be enough to save him from a recall, if it is on the cards," he said.
Politics professor, Dirk Kotze, said Zuma's announcement may have stemmed from fears that leaving the inquiry issue outstanding may serve as one of the key motivating factors to adopt a vote to recall him in the NEC.
"He is trying to preempt the NEC's decision and prevent a vote from happening on the basis of the outstanding inquiry. It was quite opportunistic for him to do this so close to the NEC meeting, therefore his decision may not be based on merit –– but rather as a way to sidetrack attention away from him," Kotze said.
He said the terms of reference of the probe will be of utmost importance.