ANC in secret talks on early Jacob Zuma exit

Defiance of party on state capture inquiry adds fuel to push for managed departure

23 December 2017 - 00:02
The Sunday Times has learnt that secret meetings are planned after Christmas to discuss ways to manage Jacob Zuma's exit.
Image: Masi Losi The Sunday Times has learnt that secret meetings are planned after Christmas to discuss ways to manage Jacob Zuma's exit.

Senior ANC leaders are engaged in urgent secret talks to negotiate an exit for President Jacob Zuma, possibly as early as next month.

Surprisingly, the talks are being driven by close allies of the president who are trying to negotiate a way for Zuma to leave office without him being embarrassed.

With Cyril Ramaphosa having been elected ANC president this week, concerns are growing among people close to Zuma that there will be immediate attempts to recall him.

Tomorrow Anglican Church Archbishop Thabo Makgoba is expected to exert pressure on Ramaphosa to force Zuma out. Church insiders say Makgoba would use his Christmas sermon to call on the national executive committee, backed by the party's MPs, to act "boldly and quickly" to remove Zuma.

Yesterday Zuma gave his enemies ammunition to call for his head as early as the first NEC meeting next month, when he lodged an appeal against a judgment by the High Court in Pretoria that ordered him to establish a commission of inquiry into state capture. The 11-page appeal cites about 20 grounds on which Zuma will argue against rulings that he should personally pay costs and that he must institute the judicial commission, among others.

Zuma's appeal is in defiance of a resolution of the ANC conference that instructed him to set up the inquiry "expeditiously".

Ramaphosa's backers are expected to argue that Zuma's appeal is proof that the two centres of power - with Zuma calling the shots at the Union Buildings and Ramaphosa at Luthuli House - will not work and that Zuma will have to vacate office.

Ramaphosa's camp holds a slim majority in the newly elected NEC and there is anticipation that it might raise the issue as soon as the first NEC meeting ahead of the party'sJanuary 8 anniversary celebrations in East London, scheduled for January 13.

One of the people involved in the talks is new secretary-general Ace Magashule. Police Minister and NEC member Fikile Mbalula has also made contact with several senior ANC leaders, including those close to Ramaphosa, asking them to help negotiate a deal.

Among those approached is NEC member and Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele.

The Sunday Times has learnt that secret meetings are planned after Christmas to discuss ways to manage Zuma's exit.

While Zuma's supporters want an amicable exit, it is difficult to negotiate any form of amnesty deal under South African law that would protect Zuma from facing trial.

Corruption charges stemming from his relationship with his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik are pending against the president and evidence could surface against him once the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture commences.

South African law has no provision for amnesty prior to trial on criminal charges. There would have to be some admission of wrongdoing on Zuma's part, which his supporters know would be difficult to extract.

Had Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma been elected ANC president, Zuma would have been cushioned, but now his supporters accept that an early departure is inevitable.

In November 2015 and May 2016, members of the former NEC urged Zuma to step down from office because of the reputational damage he was causing the ANC. Zuma refused to do so and was fiercely backed by his allies in the NEC.

With the president no longer holding any formal position in the party, it is now easier to remove him.

On the campaign trail Ramaphosa indicated to some of his backers that it would be impossible to engage in a recovery programme for the ANC and the country with Zuma in the Union Buildings.

With Zuma allies Magashule and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in the top six, along with new ANC deputy president David Mabuza, and a split NEC, it was expected that plans to remove Zuma would be frustrated.

But now Zuma's key supporters have reached out across the factional divide to discuss the president's future as they are concerned about him being humiliated, as well as the ANC's election prospects if he remains in office. It is understood that Magashule and Mabuza are willing to discuss Zuma's early exit.

An NEC member who campaigned for Ramaphosa said: "I don't see DD [Mabuza] going with them, because they are already insulting him" - a reference to accusations by supporters of Dlamini-Zuma that the Mpumalanga premier backtracked on a promise to get his province to support her.

I think Cyril Ramaphosa will build a case against Baba in the meantime
Anonymous NEC member

"The likelihood is that DD will be with us. It's a question of numbers in the NEC. I think we are in a better position than them. We're dealing with a president who in two years' time will be president [of] the country and that's a serious factor in our favour ... we also have the numbers there, we're not going in with 30 people. We have over 40 comrades who are very progressive."

A newly elected NEC member known to be a lobbyist for Dlamini-Zuma said her supporters agreed in principle that Zuma would have to go. But he said he and other supporters of Dlamini-Zuma would block any attempt to discuss the matter at the first NEC meeting, scheduled for January 10 in East London. "For 2019 he will have to go [but] ... we won't allow it before [the January 8 rally]," the NEC member said.

He said that because the NEC was split between Ramaphosa supporters and Dlamini-Zuma supporters, Zuma's exit would have to be "amicable and managed".

Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa, who stood for the post of national chairman on the Dlamini-Zuma slate, said it would be incorrect to raise Zuma's removal at an ANC meeting.

"The NEC will have to sit down, look at issues and look at resolutions. It will be difficult to attack individuals without reflecting on issues. I don't think it will be correct. We must not rush things because it might divide the ANC."

Mthethwa said party decisions taken by the new NEC should not appear to be factional.

"There is no NDZ17 or CR17. There is a leadership that is being led by Comrade Ramaphosa."

Another NEC member said that it would be "logistically impossible" to remove Zuma before the state of the nation address, which heralds the opening of parliament. If the NEC decided to recall him as head of state, it would have to call a sitting of parliament to give effect to it.

"But I think CR will build a case against Baba in the meantime," the NEC member said.

A member of the executive noted that Ramaphosa would "give Zuma a long rope to hang himself".