POLITICS
09/02/2018 04:43 SAST | Updated 09/02/2018 05:55 SAST

Bloodied But Unbowed: Ramaphosa And Zuma Trade Punches

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has been panned for his handling of the “transition” between him and President Jacob Zuma. But it ain’t that easy, folks.

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I got this... Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this week in Cape Town.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's strategy to eject President Jacob Zuma from Tuynhuys, the presidential parlour adjacent to Parliament, is nearing its climax.

While South Africans have been growing increasingly impatient over Zuma's continued occupation of the country's highest office and amid the clamour from the opposition that Ramaphosa seems ineffective in dealing with the president, the long game he has been playing will soon come to an end, with either Zuma resigning or a recall by the party.

Ramaphosa's approach since Sunday's aborted effort in Pretoria to convince Zuma to leave office has been to stick to the Constitution and related laws

Ramaphosa and Zuma have spent the week in Cape Town locked in formal and informal discussions about the president's departure from office and the mechanics and logistics surrounding it. HuffPost earlier reported that Zuma has a number of conditions that he wants met before he packs up and goes, including guarantees around his safety from prosecution, something that Ramaphosa is not prepared to consider.

HuffPost spoke to a number of role players close to the process on Wednesday and Thursday, including ANC MPs, advisers, opposition leaders and parliamentary officials, all of whom say that discussion between the two are sensitive and confidential. Although both are served by advice from trusted confidants, the detail of the negotiation is being kept private.

Ramaphosa's approach since Sunday's aborted effort in Pretoria to convince Zuma to leave office has been to stick to the Constitution and related laws, to reinforce the broad front of support he has mustered and to draw an Obama-like red line that cannot be crossed.

STICK TO THE RULES

On Thursday, during a meeting of the ANC's parliamentary caucus, Ramaphosa reiterated that he would not accede to any request from Zuma that might be contrary to the Constitution. Although he did not directly refer to talk of immunity for Zuma, he did say rumours that any "unconstitutional" agreement is on the cards are false.

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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa leaves Tuynhuys on February 8, 2018, in Cape Town.

According to sources briefed on certain aspects of the process, Ramaphosa has been steadfast in sticking to both the Constitution and ANC rules. This insulates him both from internal party critics who accuse him of a witch hunt against Zuma and from external critics who believe he might be too accommodating of the incumbent president.

KEEP THE TEAM ON-SIDE

Ramaphosa's statement at the ANC's caucus also seemingly cemented support for the deputy president — according to caucus insiders with direct knowledge of events. He made it clear that the ANC has a big task ahead of it to regain the support of the electorate as well as local and foreign business. He told MPs the major concerns locally and internationally are corruption and the dire state of state-owned enterprises. According to HuffPost's sources, all of whom were in attendance on Thursday, he spoke of being "shocked" and "appalled" at the state of institutions such as Eskom.

Next weekend's scheduled meeting of the party's executive committee will seemingly be the red line.

It seems that Ramaphosa can now count on the broad support of both the party's national executive committee and the parliamentary caucus — both of which will play a crucial role if Zuma does not leave. "Last year was depressing, this year it is different," one source who attended the caucus meeting said. "Ramaphosa is in a different league."

DO NOT CROSS THE RED LINE

Next weekend's scheduled meeting of the party's executive committee will seemingly be the red line. The strategy seems to be to ensure that every possible avenue is explored to coax Zuma into resigning of his own volition. If not, the NEC and possibly the caucus might be activated to force him out. Ramaphosa told MPs that party unity is important, intimating that Zuma will be managed and not kicked out, but that the party could be placed in a position where it would have to take difficult decisions.

It is clear from information gleaned from role players with access to events that the ANC wants to prevent a messy removal that could cause instability in party and state. A senior MP told HuffPost the NEC was prepared to and will pull the trigger if Zuma does not resign. There are various scenarios being considered If Zuma does not leave, but the ideal scenario is if Ramaphosa just slips into the top job without the trauma of a motion of no confidence or impeachment proceedings.

WHO WILL BE THE BETTER BOXER?

Roelf Meyer, Ramaphosa's opposite number during the constitutional negotiations, said he believed the deputy president knew from the beginning how he was going to achieve his objectives and that he was under no illusions what he was up against. "It's extremely difficult negotiating with someone who only has his own interest at heart and not the national interest. My advice: stick to principles and the law."

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December 20, 1991: Nelson Mandela talks to FW de Klerk with Cyril Ramaphosa during CODESA talks.

He said South Africans would have to be patient while the process unfolded. "P.W. Botha's last words when he left the Union Buildings, after being forced out by F.W. de Klerk, were: 'The better boxer won.' This is a boxing match, with each boxer throwing punches and counterpunches. It's not a quick process."

Both Ramaphosa and Zuma's calendars for the weekend have been cleared, with only Ramaphosa scheduled to deliver a speech in honour of former president Nelson Mandela on Saturday.