Jacob Zuma at the ANC's national conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg in 2017. The current upheavals in the party must be located within the context of the events that took place at that conference.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

In February this year rumours of a possible state of emergency swirled as the ANC dispatched its top leaders to the Union Buildings to convince Jacob Zuma to vacate the president’s chair.

He wouldn’t. He was stubborn and rude‚ railing against his fellow comrades like a wounded bull.

Last week author and columnist Jonny Steinberg put a little bit more flesh on the bones of what we knew as mere rumours and speculation at that time. People around key ANC leaders were so convinced of the possibility of a state of emergency that senior counsel was being consulted about the consequences of such a move.

The picture he evokes of what could have happened is breathtaking: the army on the streets‚ some ANC leaders and opposition politicians detained‚ the press gagged and NGOs shut down.

In time‚ more details will emerge of how close to the brink of a totalitarian state South Africa came in those crazy days in February 2018 as the ANC tried to dislodge Zuma from power.

It was clear on the afternoon of February 14‚ when Zuma gave that rambling‚ incoherent interview to the SABC‚ that the man was in the grip of mental agony. Our future lay in the hands of a man who was flirting with dictatorship.