POLITICS
19/01/2018 04:34 SAST | Updated 19/01/2018 04:34 SAST

Operation 'Get Zuma': Could This Weekend Be The End?

There is general consensus among organisers and confidants on Team Ramaphosa that President Jacob Zuma cannot deliver the state of the nation address. What now?

Changing of the guard... Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, now the leader of the ANC, has moved quickly to strengthen the new order in the governing party.
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Changing of the guard... Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, now the leader of the ANC, has moved quickly to strengthen the new order in the governing party.

ANALYSIS

In 21 days, the new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and his team want to see the government set a different tone with the annual state of the nation address on February 7.

This means it cannot be delivered by President Jacob Zuma, say several sources aligned to Ramaphosa and canvassed by HuffPost SA this week. This is because Zuma has lost moral authority and is a very unpopular president as several surveys reveal. "It would be very difficult for the current president to deliver the state of the nation address (SONA)," said a Ramaphosa confidant.

It would be ideal if he (President Zuma) leaves before (the SONA address) or the opportunity to galvanise the country will be lost

"The state of the nation address and the budget set the tone for the year and even beyond. It should be Ramaphosa's domain," an NEC member aligned to Ramaphosa said. There is broad consensus in Ramaphosa's circle that the reported idea of ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma becoming interim president is a non-starter.

ZUMA SHOULD GO 'BEFORE SONA'

The tabling of the national budget on February 21 is being watched with eagle eyes by international investors, domestic business and the broader polity to see how Ramaphosa intends to resuscitate an economy stuck in a low growth rut for a long time now. "It would be ideal if he (President Zuma) leaves before (the SONA address) or the opportunity to galvanise the country will be lost," said the confidant.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) next to President Jacob Zuma at the opening of parliament in 2016.

But will Zuma go? Very unlikely, said a member of Ramaphosa's team. "He's fighting every step of the way."

On Thursday, the President tabled his appeal against a December judgment, which instructed Ramaphosa to fire the chief prosecutor Shaun Abrahams. Zuma will argue that there cannot be two centres of power in South Africa and that he is the sovereign.

The NWC has emerged as an important battleground for both the Ramaphosa and Zuma camps because the body plays such an important role in the daily affairs of the party.

This weekend's big ANC gathering will be key to resolve the party's ballooning dilemma of two centres of power. The ANC on Friday elects its engine room or powerhouse, the national working committee (NWC) from the much larger national executive committee (NEC). The 20 people who get elected to the working committee are uber-powerful in making the big decisions for the party and the country.

ANOTHER BIG BATTLE LOOMING

The NWC has emerged as an important battleground for both the Ramaphosa and Zuma camps because the body plays such an important role in the daily affairs of the party. Although the NEC, which meets bimonthly, is the highest decision-making body between conferences, in reality, it is the NWC, that meets weekly, that is considered the "engine" of the leadership. Control of this body means control over the general thrust of the ANC, including what is placed on the NEC agenda. Rampahosa's supporters have been circulating the names of a possible NWC among voting delegates.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (centre) at the ANC's January 8th celebrations earlier. On is left is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Jacob Zuma.

Party insiders who say this weekend's NEC meeting might well lead to a discussion and decision on Zuma's future. They argue the momentum of recent events – the announcement of the commission of inquiry into state capture, developments around the various investigations into grand corruption and the dismissal of Richard Mdluli as the police's intelligence boss – should be maintained.

Although the issue of Zuma's recall is not formally on the agenda for the NEC lekgotla for the weekend (the first two days will be a normal NEC meeting as well as the NWC election) some Ramaphosa aligned NEC members say Zuma's future will be the (big) elephant in the room. "Everyone is talking about it. It will be there and depending on what happens with the NWC election, the issue might be forced," the NEC member told HuffPost SA.

This is a negotiated transition and there is no template for how it should happen.A Ramaphosa strategist.

If this weekend's push to get rid of Zuma fails (a mediated resignation mooted last week went nowhere), then the battle will move to Parliament where the President could face a motion of no confidence. Cape Town is hostile territory for Zuma, not only because the South African opposition gives him a hard time every time he sets foot in the National Assembly, but also because the ANC caucus led by Jackson Mthembu is as much enemy territory.

"This is a negotiated transition and there is no template for how it should happen," said a Ramaphosa strategist.