18/12/2017 12:56 SAST | Updated 10/01/2018 06:02 SAST

President Jacob Zuma Is Now A Lame Duck

The Guptas are toast now.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma attends the 54th national conference of the governing African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 17, 2017.

President Jacob Zuma is now a lame duck president. With a new ANC president in place, Zuma loses significant power and currency.

Of course, he is still president of South Africa until he is recalled, or until his term ends after the next national election in 2019.

But because the ANC is such a significant party force in South Africa, Zuma will be the lesser of the two centres of power that run the country. The term "lame duck" refers to a leader who is on their way out, and whose power begins to wane.

Over the next few weeks, the ANC will decide which of the party's two centres of power will reign supreme. The two centres are Zuma's at the Union Buildings, and the new ANC president's at the party headquarters in Luthuli House.

If history is a guide, then Luthuli House will be the centre, with the Union Buildings under Zuma becoming less and less important as the reality of the ANC elective conference sets in.

What does this mean? Zuma will not be able to execute final big deals, like the nuclear contract he has been pushing with energy minister David Mahlobo. It also means the remaining power of his patron family, the Guptas, is likely to dissipate completely.

The family is not at the ANC's conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg. At the party's last big conference at Mangaung, the Gupta brothers and their fixer, Ashu Chawla –– who is at the centre of the #Guptaleaks emails –– sat as delegates to the conference.

They went on from there to capture the South African state and its state-owned enterprises, through influencing how contracts were divvied up, and by deploying dodgy executives to the boards of state-owned companies. They also influenced cabinet appointments to secure policies and contracts.

It's safe to say the Guptas will be toast.

In addition, Zuma is likely to lose his right to deploy, which means he will not be able to make any more Cabinet reshuffles to sow instability in the executive, or to advance his own business interests through putting in place pliant individuals.

While Zuma will retain the formalism and prestige of his presidential role, a lot of his prerogative has now slipped through his fingers.

*This article was first published on December 18, 2017.