24/10/2017 12:42 SAST | Updated 24/10/2017 12:59 SAST

Mbeki's 'Recall' Seems To Be Zuma's Biggest Weapon

The ANC's removal of Thabo Mbeki as president in 2008 seems to be preventing it from acting against President Jacob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma . . . the ANC was hurt badly when it fired Thabo Mbeki as president in 2008, says Gwede Mantashe.
Grant Neuenburg / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma . . . the ANC was hurt badly when it fired Thabo Mbeki as president in 2008, says Gwede Mantashe.


Gwede Mantashe was interviewed on Talk Radio 702 by Eusebius McKaiser on Tuesday morning and the ANC's secretary general was forced to do some serious tap dancing. Mantashe, the ANC's managing director and the man who has over the last decade been tasked in holding the organisation together, struggled to explain or to justify a lot that has gone wrong with the country and the party under the current leadership.

It was his answers to questions about recalling President Jacob Zuma though which were the most interesting. He told McKaiser that the NEC does not have the authority to remove the president and that the responsibility lies with a national conference.

But in September 2008 the NEC, after a marathon meeting ending in the early hours of a Saturday morning, dispatched a delegation (under the leadership of Mantashe) to inform then-president Thabo Mbeki that he was to be removed. The reason forwarded was that the High Court earlier found that Mbeki intervened in the legal process around Zuma.

That reasoning was the official line, but the underlying reason was a political cleanout embarked upon by the Zumaïtes. There was no sound reason of governance why Mbeki was booted, it was purely political.

In Zuma's case, there are real and tangible political and governance reasons why Zuma should be recalled by his party. The growing cancer of state capture and grand corruption, an increasingly incapacitated state and bureaucracy, an economy buffeted by bad management and political machinations and last -- but for the ANC certainly not least -- the drastic erosion of the ANC's stature and support.

None of these reasons however are good enough for the party's leadership (the NEC) to make a decision comparable to the September 2008 resolution to remove Mbeki. Mantashe argued the party learned hard lessons then and that it led to the formation of Cope. And besides, he says, people forget Mbeki wasn't the leader of the party. Zuma still is the ANC's leader, "a leader who still has a lot of support".

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (R) pose with former president Thabo Mbeki during the lighting up ceremony of the centenary torch ahead of the upcoming African National Congress (ANC) centenary celebration in Bloemfontein January 8, 2012.

That might be so, but the damage Zuma has wrought onto the government, state and the ANC is threatening the stability of governance and the very future of the party. Mantashe and his colleagues distorted the natural order of things in the ANC when they conspired to rid the ANC of Mbeki to appease their (then) new leader on the road to political Nirvana. Yes, it led to the formation of Cope and eventually led to the EFF. But it's not a patch on the electoral losses last year or on what might come in 2019.

Mbeki could have been axed over his government's position on HIV/Aids. He wasn't. He was fired because of a court judgment later overturned on appeal. Zuma could already have been axed for a number of reasons. He wasn't removed.

The ANC fired Mbeki eight months before his term was to end. It has forced the party to grit its teeth while Zuma goes about his destructive business. Because they're too afraid.