POLITICS
05/02/2018 06:00 SAST | Updated 05/02/2018 06:01 SAST

Inside The Transition: What Zuma's Team Is Thinking

President Jacob Zuma would not have been a passive participant when the ANC leadership went to see him on Sunday night.

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Vibes . . . Deputy President Cyril Rampahosa and President Jacob Zuma at last week's Cabinet lekgotla.

Mhlamba'Ndopfu is the gloriously elegant presidential mansion in the Pretoria estate abutting the Union Buildings where all Cabinet members have homes.

On Sunday night, the ANC's top six officials choppered onto its manicured lawns to hold the first meeting to plan the transition from President Jacob Zuma to deputy president and party president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Presidential aides told HuffPost SA that Zuma is unlikely to adopt the position of passive listener as his comrades arrive.

There is a growing view in the ANC that if Zuma delivers Thursday's state of the nation address it will dampen the momentum that Ramaphosa has built for a reform and corruption-busting agenda.

Presidential aides told HuffPost SA that Zuma is unlikely to adopt the position of passive listener as his comrades arrive. The six officials are divided on when and if Zuma should step down, so the meeting did not have a single and targeted agenda.

ZUMA MUST NOT DELIVER THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS, MANY BELIEVE

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Happy days . . . Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates the ANC's birthday last month along with vanquished rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Jacob Zuma.

Ramaphosa believes the state of the nation address should not be delivered by Zuma and his deputy David Mabuza is likely to support this view, although the president has been a loyal supporter of the Mpumalanga premier.

The party's treasurer Paul Mashatile also wants Zuma to step down and party chairperson Gwede Mantashe is likely to be on the same ticket. The secretary-general Ace Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte have both publicly said Zuma should not be pushed.

Zuma will, however, seek a long debate and engagement with his ANC comrades before leaving. In this, he will adopt a different position to former President Thabo Mbeki . . .

Here's what Zuma was thinking ahead of this crucial but difficult meeting.

"The president is a man of strong opinions and he knows his constitutional powers," said a staffer. The Constitution invests significant authority in the state president. Ideally, Zuma would like to serve out his term until 2019 and he can see no constitutional impediments to keep him from doing so, say his team canvassed by HuffPost SA.

But if the ANC wants him to go, then he will. "The president's strategy will be to engage and not resist. He is socialised in the ANC. It is a big part of his identity and has played a central role in his life for five decades," said the presidency staffer.

Zuma will, however, seek a long debate and engagement with his ANC comrades before leaving. In this, he will adopt a different position to former president Thabo Mbeki who quit once he was instructed to do so by Mantashe, then the secretary-general.

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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly.

HE'LL GO, BUT IT WON'T BE WHEN RAMAPHOSA WANTS

Presidency officials believe Zuma will leave by June with some factoring in a Zexit of April or May but with a no-confidence motion looming in parliament on February 22, this may push his aides to persuade Zuma to hasten his exit.

"The madcaps on President Zuma's side think he will serve until 2019. You don't want to give them an inch," said the aide, adding that a date of May or June was likely.

The President still has constitutional powers to take decisions. He is an ANC deployee but the Constitution says he has to make a rational decision in terms of the law . . .A Presidency official

He added: "It would be incorrect to push him or embarrass him. He will fight back.

"If you don't do it properly, people can die, it can spark a civil war."

"The President still has constitutional powers to take decisions. He is an ANC deployee but the Constitution says he has to make a rational decision in terms of the law and he is under no constitutional requirement to consult. We need a structure where the President of the ANC and the president of the country meet every week."

Zuma has more political leverage to determine his own exit, says the Presidency official.

"ANC president Ramaphosa is politically shrewd – this is not a post-Polokwane conference, which produced a 60:40 victory for President Zuma. Ramaphosa's win at the Nasrec conference was 50:50. This (a finely balanced polity) can kill the ANC. You need to balance things and get everyone into the tent. In order for that to happen, you need to manage the transition soberly. To put the ANC first, government must operate."

DAYS AWAY FROM SONA . . . BUT NO CLARITY

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Pensive . . . Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa before he left for the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It would be very difficult for the current president (Zuma) to deliver the state of the nation address," says a senior member of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa's team. "He has become a divisive figure. And his state of the nation addresses have not been turned into a vision or programme. If (Zuma) delivers the address, you lose an opportunity to galvanise the country."

He adds, "(President) Zuma does not have the support of the ANC caucus. It would be ideal if he leaves before. But there is no indication of that (happening). He's fighting every step of the way."