03/04/2017 11:27 SAST | Updated 03/04/2017 14:44 SAST

The Balance Of Forces: Why Jacob Zuma Is Still In Command

There seems to be a powerful groundswell of anti-Zuma sentiment -- but the ANC leader is nowhere near to being a spent force.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.
Rogan Ward / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.


When President Jacob Zuma fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Thursday, 30 March 2017 he did so after an audit of the balance of forces in the African National Congress (ANC) and broader society -- and it showed he has the upper hand.

Even though there seems to be large-scale mobilisation inside the party and among civil society formations, Zuma seems to be in control of every single relevant power bloc, while those that he doesn't control are either too small or don't have executive powers.

The only avenue open to insurrectionists seems to be the ANC's parliamentary caucus, whose leadership was on Saturday locked in discussions about Zuma's decision to eject Gordhan.

"We must not rest, we must not sit down or accept defeat," says Mavuso Msimang, an ANC veteran and a leader of the informal grouping of 100 party elders that earlier met with the party's leadership.

The veterans' initiative -- they asked for a special consultative conference to discuss the ructions in the party -- was dismissed by Zuma and the rest of the top six leaders. "They strung us along and discarded us. We went to talk to them, twice. There's no use anymore. The decision to oust Gordhan was outrageous. We now have to support civil society in resisting," added Msimang.

Gordhan addressed a packed Johannesburg City Hall on Saturday where the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations, in conjunction with the Gauteng ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), hosted a memorial event for Kathrada, who died last week. The former minister said individuals, groups and communities across the political spectrum must "unite" to return the country to its founding ideals and added it is "very clear what the problems are and who is causing them".

Kathrada's widow, Barbara Hogan, made an emotional plea to Zuma, asking whether he has "eyes and ears" to see what is going on around him: "You have sacrificed everything we stand for on the altar of corruption and greed and more greed."

The event was attended by representatives of various organisations in civil society, including Zwelinzima Vavi, who has just helped launch a new trade union federation, Save South Africa and Section 27.

Senior sources in the Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary caucus told Huffington Post SA they have been informally approached by a "substantial" number of MP's from the ANC urging them to forge ahead with the tabling of a motion of no-confidence. The official opposition have also said if ANC MP's support the motion, the DA will support any candidate the governing party puts forward.

Inside the ANC's parliamentary caucus there seems to be some division over Zuma, with Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu becoming increasingly vocal in his criticism of the party leader. But Zuma supporters say there is no way the caucus will succeed in a vote of no-confidence, with many loyalist MP's drawn from rural areas and from provinces that are part of the so-called "premier league".

A senior ANC MP, who was aligned to former president Thabo Mbeki and was a long-serving member of the ANC's national executive committee, says the crisis in the party needs to be pinned on Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe.

"They should have foreseen what would happen, especially Mantashe. He was warned, but he didn't want to listen, he dismissed us. In fact, he voted for Zuma twice. He created this situation. They [Ramaphosa and Mantashe] should have given guidance long ago, but calls for Zuma to resign were rejected because they said we should now be consistent, we must stick with him," he added.

Even though Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize have all publicly rebuked their leader, they seem powerless to either rein him in or stop him.

Zuma has, since 9 December 2015, when he unilaterally and disastrously replaced Nhlanla Nene as finance minister, suffered no consequences for the Constitutional Court's Nkandla judgment (March 2016), the ANC's poor election results (August 2016) and the public protector's damaging report into state capture (October 2016).

If he could survive that -- and given the range of power blocs behind him -- he can surely survive this calamity.


Zuma is increasingly becoming an imperial president: surrounded by hardline loyalists in the security cluster, open to paranoia and conspiracies and surrounded by bodyguards. With the ousting of Gordhan from Treasury he now has total control over the state and the levers of power. The executive is totally beholden to him.

When Derek Hanekom and others, including Gordhan, moved a motion to debate Zuma's fitness to hold office was tabled at a meeting of the NEC in December it was soundly defeated. The 80-member body, the party's highest decision-making body between national conferences, fell silently into line. The NEC fired Mbeki in 2008, but only because Zuma had the numbers. He still has.

The Leagues
Under Zuma, the ANC's youth league was neutered and cleansed of challengers like Julius Malema. It has now re-emerged as a frantic cheerleader for the president and his populism, only trumped in the scale and commitment of its sycophancy by Bathabile Dlamini's women's league. These organisations act as attack dogs for Zuma -- and they are very effective

The Premier League
The premiers and the provincial executives of Mpumalanga, North West, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal have created a network of patronage and political influence that has established a grassroots operation to muster support for Zuma and his chosen successor as party leader which won't be easily matched, if at all. They might use Zuma, but Zuma also uses them.

The Guptas And ANN7
The Gupta family are business partners of Edward Zuma and close friends of the president. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela's investigation into the family's role in state capture -- their influence in the appointment of ministers, access to business opportunities with the state and threats to senior civil servants -- is well documented. They nevertheless remain lurking in the background, using their media outlets produce a never-ending stream of propaganda.


The ANC's Top Six Leadership
There is no doubt the top six leadership is deeply divided. Ramaphosa, Mantashe and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhoze have all publicly registered their unhappiness with the way Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet. Only Jessie Duarte (deputy secretary-general) and Baleka Mbete have not yet done so -- which might suggest they are either on Zuma's side of the chasm that's opened up, or are uncertain. Even so, the leadership have proven impotent in influencing or disciplining Zuma.

The Alliance
The SACP initially came out very strongly when the rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle were starting to emerge, threatening a walkout of its members who are serving on the executive. It has since demanded that Zuma resign, but leaders like Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin remain ministers and deputy ministers. Cosatu has literally said nothing.

The ANC's Parliamentary Caucus
Where the NEC has the power to "recall" the president as an ANC deployee to government, the caucus has actual constitutional power to dismiss the president. If 50 MP's vote with the opposition, they could conceivably carry a vote of no-confidence, which means Zuma would have to leave office. But even with the strident rhetoric of Mthembu, a lot of spadework will have to be done before the ANC votes against their own leader, in public, and at the behest of the opposition. There certainly is major disgust with Zuma in caucus. But is it enough?


The Foundations And Their Partners
This is perhaps the most potent of the oppositional formations -- but the one with no executive power. The symbolism of the foundations of Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada coming together against Zuma is extremely powerful. Kathrada's funeral, where former president Kgalema Motlanthe read aloud Kathrada's letter to Zuma imploring him to resign, was just as significant, as was the public support given to Gordhan that day. But it helped little as Gordhan was fired 48 hours later. The rise of organisations like Section27, and Save South Africa is working to mobilise at grassroots level. It could be this mobilisation that could influence voting patterns. And that could influence the ANC.

Civil Society II
Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Committee for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) and the Black Sash have become active watchdogs over the executive, scoring a number of important court victories over Zuma's executive and the encroachments of executive power. The courts are wary to intervene in governance, but it has recently been forced to do so a number of times, to the betterment of society.

The Opposition
Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), for all their bluster and populism, have a keen eye for a political gap and have developed a degree of sophistication in their extra-parliamentary activities (it was the EFF which took Zuma to court over the Nkandla invesitgation). More pertinently, it is Malema -- with his extensive contacts and enjoying widespread sympathy inside the party -- that is a threat. He knows where the bodies are buried and which ones to dig up. The Democratic Alliance is an important cog: it will drive the parliamentary opposition to Zuma, leveraging process and the Constitution as the basis of its attacks.