Wily Zuma girds up for war
So president Jacob Zuma has brought his personal lawyer, Michael Hulley, into the Presidency as his legal adviser.
A few months ago, Zuma brought in Mac Maharaj, his long-time political ally and a close friend of his financial benefactors, the Shaiks, as his spokesman.
The Hulley appointment is questionable. As a director of Aurora Empowerment Systems, in partnership with the president's nephew, Khulubuse, he was party to that company's failure to pay its workers for nearly two years.
Hulley was, however, excellent at getting Zuma off the hook on various legal challenges from 2005 to 2009. He marshalled the forces that got Zuma off on rape charges, manoeuvred to get Zuma's corruption charges quashed and saw off other legal problems.
So what's going on here?
Zuma has been challenged by some ANC leaders who have designs on the ANC presidency. These leaders have not raised their hands but have used the likes of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema to front their campaigns.
It was telling that, when the league's "economic freedom" march reached the Union Buildings, Malema praised "great ANC presidents" Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and, wonder of wonders, Kgalema Motlanthe. Not a word of praise for Zuma.
This was the latest declaration of war. And Zuma knows it. So he is girding himself for battle.
In appointing Maharaj, Zuma has rid himself of a former youth league spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, and replaced him with a trusted securocrat. Maharaj, a brilliant strategist, has deep knowledge of intelligence services and shares Zuma's security background
Hulley has proved himself adept at working with intelligence sources and material - he was a key figure in the revelation of the tapes purporting to show that there were conversations about when to charge Zuma for corruption. How the tapes landed in the hands of Zuma's defence is still a mystery.
Consider the fact that there has been much uproar about State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and his attempts to get rid of the intelligence heads who report to him. Apparently, some of them are unhappy about interference in their work.
We can safely say that Zuma has a tight grip on the intelligence services and on their decisions about who gets tapped, who gets monitored and who has access to dirt about political opponents.
Then there is the ANC itself. Zuma's ally is Gwede Mantashe, the party's secretary-general. It is in his office that membership of the party is controlled, monitored, vetted and - crucially - legitimised. And you will have to be legitimised if you want to attend and vote at the party's elective conference in Mangaung in December next year.
Virtually every ANC leader has bemoaned the buying of membership cards by people who want to influence elections. It will be up to Mantashe to ensure the Mangaung conference is not sullied by such practices so Zuma has the gate-keeping for the conference sorted.
KwaZulu-Natal is the one province in which ANC membership has grown, and phenomenally, over the past four years. Other provinces continue to shed or merely maintain membership numbers.
And we know that KwaZulu-Natal fervently wants Zuma to retain the presidency of the party. So Zuma has that aspect of the conference - delegate numbers - sorted out fully.
In the afternoon of his first term as an ANC president, Zuma is consolidating his power in preparation for warding off challengers to his position. At the moment, he does not have noisemakers who can counter the vigorous campaigning of the ANCYL. But there is no doubt that he is tightening the screws, both in the party and the s tate, to ensure that he is master and commander come December 2012.
Zuma can feel the eyes of history on him. The ANC turns 100 in January. It will celebrate more divided, more corrupt, more battle-bruised, more rudderless, than it has ever in its history. History will judge the leader who brought it to this point.
Zuma wants to ensure that he is not the man who sits at the head of the table as this ANC implodes.
His tragedy is that he might win Mangaung but the minute he leaves the conference ANC leaders will be discussing who takes over from him in 2017.
He will be a lame duck president for five years, overseeing a party whose young bucks will be throttling each other for supremacy. It ain't over by a long chalk.