THE BLOG
05/02/2018 05:59 SAST | Updated 05/02/2018 10:37 SAST

Ramaphosa Should Leave The Zuma Lame Duck To Quack

Neither does it matter whether President Zuma steps down this month or next.

Sunday Times via Getty Images
Chill about who is going to deliver the state of the nation address, argues Ferial Haffajee.

We have our knickers in a collective knot about Thursday's state of the nation address and who delivers it, but we really shouldn't.

It's not that important. And neither is the lather South Africa has worked itself up into over when President Jacob Zuma steps down.

If Zuma does step down ahead of Thursday's address, Ramaphosa's team is at best going to put together a speech that builds on his key addresses like his victory speech at the ANC's December conference in 2017

Here's why.

There are likely to be two state of the nation addresses this year and there are likely to be two budgets tabled too: it's the second set that will provide the clarity and direction of where ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now South Africa's de facto leader, plans to take the country.

If Zuma does step down ahead of Thursday's address, Ramaphosa's team is at best going to put together a speech that builds on his key addresses like his victory speech at the ANC's December conference in 2017 and his various remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

If Ramaphosa is appointed acting president, the National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete will have 60 days in which to call a sitting to elect a president.

It won't be the majestic state of the nation address he is capable of giving because there simply isn't time between now and Thursday to plan such a thing.

If Ramaphosa is appointed acting president, National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete will have 60 days in which to call a sitting to elect a president. That president will have to deliver a second state of the nation address in 2018 and table a second national budget. If Zuma resigns, then Cabinet members do not lose their jobs with him – that only happens if there is a removal by motion of no confidence or impeachment. But Ramaphosa, assuming he becomes president, has signalled that he wants a new Cabinet.

That is when the real action will happen.

POOL New / Reuters
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma behind a bust of former president Nelson Mandela during the opening of parliament in 2014.

Right now, South Africa is in an interregnum between two leaders — ours is only two months old, but it feels interminable. It's not; the transition will happen this year and possibly this month. Zuma wants to stay until 2019 when his term ends, but he is unlikely to now, as he faces a motion of no confidence in Parliament on February 22.

Because he is a lame duck, he is unlikely to survive this fifth motion of no confidence, so while this week's state of the nation address has become a political fetish, it is not that important as a path-setter for a South Africa on the cusp of change.

Neither is it that important for Zuma to go this week. In a party-based system, he effectively lost power on December 18, 2017 when Ramaphosa was elected. Since then, the president's been neutered.

He was pushed to announce a commission of inquiry into state capture; his cronies were stripped out of Eskom and a new board was put in place; the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and its Asset Forfeiture Unit are on the heels of Zuma's patron family, the Guptas, and their various political sponsors.

Instead of placing Zuma in the position of the victim being hunted by the victors (a position in which he is most effective), Ramaphosa should not push his exit but leave the lame duck to quack.