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Wed Sep 28 05:25:11 SAST 2016

The Big Read: Zuma's got the right numbers

Justice Malala | 08 February, 2016 00:10
Justice Malala. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED / Times Media Group

President Jacob Zuma, the great survivor, enters yet another tough week in his political life. Zuma is weak and under siege - from within his own party, from the opposition benches and the public at large.

Predictions have been made that the man is so weak that he will be recalled by his party within months; that he may be forced to go because of the massive damage he is wreaking on the 104-year-old ANC.

I am not convinced Zuma can be forced out by his comrades.

Why not? Zuma has always been a cunning analyst of the ANC and its processes. He knows where the power within the party lies. He sleeps easy knowing that the majority of South Africans will still vote for the ANC, at least at the general elections in 2019. The 2024 national elections are another story altogether.

The key for him, therefore, is to forget about the general populace and concentrate on what matters to him: the decision-making bodies within the party.

This is something even the party's own leaders forget. For example, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said last month that the notorious Gupta family - benefactors of Zuma's large family and business partners of his son - have not taken control of the ANC, but "captured" individuals in the party.

"They [the Guptas] would not have any influence on the ANC. They would have ties with individuals in the ANC. That does not give them influence over the ANC," Mantashe said.

What Mantashe does not get is that the danger has not been the Guptas capturing individuals. The Guptas have captured one big individual - Zuma; and Zuma has, since 2007, captured the ANC.

The Guptas can, therefore, sleep easy because they know that no one in the ANC can touch Zuma. His control of the party is absolute because he controls the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) - the body that can recall him.

When the ANC recalled President Thabo Mbeki in September 2008, he had just lost the party presidency in Polokwane, garnering about 40% of the votes . Zuma, with his 60%, held the reins in the NEC. When it was time to cast votes to recall Mbeki, Zuma knew he held the upper hand.

Numbers are key to Zuma. Despite the jibes about his lack of education, he is a clinical mathematician where it matters. In September 2008, he made sure the numbers worked to trip up and remove Mbeki. He saw Mbeki as a threat.

I don't believe that Zuma, for one second, believed Mbeki was running a vendetta to send him to jail. I believe he got rid of Mbeki because Mbeki would not stop the law enforcement agencies from doing their jobs. That's why Zuma destroyed the Scorpions.

In 2012, Zuma wanted to make sure that he had an even tighter grip on the party, so he poured resources into growing the KwaZulu-Natal base of the ANC. He also grew Mpumalanga, parts of the Eastern Cape and others where he held sway. The result was that his "slate" won the 2012 Mangaung ANC elections by 75% of the votes cast.

Zuma captured the ANC by using power and resources.

Journalist Gareth van Onselen wrote of the ANC's NEC, the only body that can remove Zuma: "Significantly, of the 80 members elected onto the national executive committee at the ANC's national conference, 59 people - or 73% - hold public positions at the president's discretion (including 28 ministers, 11 deputy ministers and 10 parliamentary committee chairs)."

Would they raise their hands if, say, Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile proposed a motion of no-confidence in Zuma at an ANC NEC meeting? I don't think so.

The ANC's December 2017 national conference is two years away. Power has not significantly shifted to a new power bloc away from Zuma. Today, he is the master , and to cross him would be at the cost of one's livelihood.

Zuma is in trouble, yes. But he is in trouble in the streets, and in our political system that doesn't count for much. The power still lies in party structures. In time that will change. But as long as it remains so, Zuma has figured out he can ignore public sentiment and keep his eye on the ball.

That ball is the highest decision-making body of the ruling party: its national executive committee - and that he has captured. He is still in charge and staying, unless he conveniently falls ill.

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