05/04/2017 15:11 SAST | Updated 07/04/2017 06:03 SAST

The Message From The ANC Is Clear: We're Still Behind Zuma

The outcome of an extraordinary NWC meeting shows the ANC has little appetite to go head to head with the president.

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South African President Jacob Zuma.


The National Working Committee exists to carry out the decisions and instructions of the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC), it's highest decision making body between structures. It submits a report to each NEC meeting, according to the ANC's website.

But it is the composition of the NWC that makes it interesting, not necessarily its work. The NWC is meant to represent a sort of cross-section of the broader ANC. And when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon on its behalf, the message was clear: the ANC as a whole, not just its senior officials, is still firmly behind Zuma.

The NWC's statement after its meeting makes it clear that this was no ordinary meeting: the chairperson and secretaries of the provincial structures attended. The meeting was called specifically to discuss "recent developments in the ANC and in the country, including amongst them the call by alliance partners for... Jacob Zuma to resign and the state of restlessness the discontent as portrayed by mobilisation by certain sectors".

And it emerged united in the view that this portraying of discontent was wrong, that Zuma is allowed to fire and hire as he wishes, and that the political turmoil of the last week was unfortunate.

The SACP called for Zuma to resign on the day that he announced his Cabinet reshuffle, where finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas were fired.

"The recall from an overseas trip of comrades Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas while on a promotional tour in South Africa's interests, and now the firing of these comrades and other well-performing ministers is more than regrettable.

"It is frankly outrageous, particularly while the worst performers in Cabinet continue to enjoy presidential protection and even, in some cases, promotion," the SACP said in a statement.

On Monday, Cosatu became the second alliance partner to call for his resignation.

Zuma had already asked for a meeting with Cosatu to discuss its call, and on Wednesday, Mantashe said the ANC intended to meet with the SACP over what the party viewed as "the serious breach of confidentiality between ourselves and our alliance partner." Here, the NWC was referring to a press conference held on the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle, where the SACP said Gordhan would be replaced, and voiced its unhappiness about the situation.

While the alliance partners' decision to speak out was clearly not appreciated, the NWC admitted there were misgivings about the cabinet reshuffle and Mantashe said a very candid discussion had taken place.

The NWC said the "national officials" had acknowledged their "shortcomings" in the way the reshuffle was handled. This was a reference to the fact that Mantashe, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize had all voiced their unhappiness with the reshuffle.

But Mantashe now said this was a "mistake", and reaffirmed the president's prerogative to choose his cabinet.

On Pravin Gordhan's removal, Mantashe said the NWC had agreed that there was an "irretrievable breakdown"in the relationship between Pravin Gordhan and Zuma, and the meeting had accepted this as an explanation for the move.

This was far cry from Mantashe's previous misgivings about the lack of consultation before the cabinet reshuffle.

The NWC consists of the top six office bearers, and additional members elected by the NEC. There are currently 20 members of the NWC in total. At least 50% of the NWC members must be women, and each of the leagues elects one member to represent it on the committee.

This will be bad news for opposition members hoping to take advantage of divisions in the ANC when a vote of no confidence in the President is heard in Parliament, if Wednesday's briefing is a litmus test for the appetite of the wider ANC to go head to head with Zuma in public.

With all of these members in tow during Tuesday's meeting, plus representatives from each of the province, a united message of support behind Zuma, the likes of which was indicated on Wednesday, could mean that the internal wrestling over whether Zuma should stay or go is to be kept out of the public eye, for now.