Ramaphosa has sacked most of the lickspittles but Zuma will be harder to banish
When Jacob Zuma finally made his disappearance in the middle of the night, the expectation was that he would leave the political stage completely to allow Cyril Ramaphosa, his successor, the space to stamp his authority on the party and country in the run-up to next year's general elections.
But thanks to Zuma's need for self-preservation, especially his desperate desire to stay out of jail, and Ramaphosa's innate penchant to please, the former president will be up and about and gambolling like a newly born calf feeling its oats. He's certainly not about to ride off into the sunset in a hurry. Zuma will be a headache for Ramaphosa and probably the biggest challenge to his leadership of the party.
In the wake of Zuma's departure most of the attention has been focused on Ramaphosa's new team; who among Zuma's lickspittles he should sack expeditiously, and who he should bring on board. Howls of derision, for instance, have greeted his retention of some of Zuma's most incompetent toadies, such as Nomvula Mokonyane, Malusi Gigaba and especially Bathabile Dlamini, a poster child for incompetence. Ramaphosa is a politician. To stay in power he has to win elections.
Dlamini may be a public figure of fun and ridicule, but for now she's the leader of the women's league. That counts for something. Ramaphosa may not want to annoy such a constituency on the eve of an election. But he's given her a non-job, a dummy where, even with the best will in the world, she'd struggle to do any damage. He's literally hidden her from public view. She's in the departure lounge and she'll be gone come the next elections.
Ramaphosa has culled 10 cabinet ministers, almost a third of the entire executive. That's a bloodbath in anybody's language.
"In the face of all the political changes that are happening, how long do you think your story is going to stick?" was a pointed question put to a dissembling Anoj Singh, the former Eskom chief financial officer, by an exasperated Pravin Gordhan during the hearings of the parliamentary inquiry into the parastatal.
It's a question that many of Zuma's toadies, embedded like leeches throughout the state apparatus, are reluctant to countenance. They live in a parallel universe.
One of them, SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, was turfed out this week. He's seeing his lawyers to try and reverse his suspension. But his goose is well and truly cooked. NPA head Shaun Abrahams, the meanest of bootlickers, after slavishly tending to Zuma's needs since his appointment is now conveniently and shamelessly turning on his former boss to save his own job.
Abrahams's actions are more than nauseating. He's spent the better part of his time in office, not to mention millions of taxpayers' money, resisting the high court's decision that he reinstate charges against Zuma. Now that there's been a change of guard and Zuma is a spent force politically, he changes his tune and theatrically announces the reimposition of those charges. His dance to the prevailing political winds is enough to disqualify him from his job. But he'll be out on his ear very soon.
But rooting the leeches out of the system, although it takes time, will not be that much of an onerous challenge for Ramaphosa. His biggest test will be how he handles Zuma, who has an uncanny capacity to wreak havoc on his successor's nascent attempt to sanitise the party's image ahead of the elections.
Zuma seems a man in a hurry. He hadn't even given himself time to lick his wounds or mourn his humiliating dismissal from office before he was out in the hustings like a man campaigning for votes. He realises the challenges ahead are too daunting for him. Which is why he needs the protection and embrace of the party.
Zuma attended an ANC election preparatory meeting recently. That means he and some of his supporters in the party see him not as a spent force to be cast aside, but as a critical part of the party's election campaign. Zuma's court appearances could well coincide with the election campaign, which means he may be sitting in the dock one day and be dancing and exulting on the campaign trail the next. Or will election campaigning and court appearance morph into one? One can almost imagine Zuma addressing an exuberant election crowd after one of his court appearances.
There won't be any shortage of supporters. Zuma's court appearances will be in Pietermaritzburg, heartland of his support. The ANC has also yet to pronounce on whether its members can or cannot openly support or accompany its former president in court. That may suggest that the Zuma dregs in the NEC are not yet ready to abandon him.
But the idea of Zuma on the campaign trail is at variance with the so-called new dawn Ramaphosa is trying to promote. What would have been the purpose of prematurely kicking him out of office only to bring him back to campaign for votes? Isn't he the scandal-ridden eminence scaring away voters?
But what Ramaphosa should do - and quickly - is to untangle himself and his government from the secret agreement to pay Zuma's legal fees. It has dishonesty written all over it, if not being patently fraudulent. Ramaphosa's explanation in parliament last week was evasive, and not at all in keeping with the spirit of Thuma Mina. It reeks of the very odour he claims to want to eradicate. Why he wants to protect either Zuma or a shady agreement which is not of his doing, only he knows.
Ramaphosa should completely cut the umbilical cord with Zuma. Otherwise all this rhetoric about new dawns will be seen for what it is - empty words meant to win votes.