As I sit to write this month’s missive, it seems the Zuma moment will be behind us soon. As I write, I am listening to a news bulletin in which it is being reported that African National Congress (ANC) treasurer-general Paul Mashatile told a group of businesspeople at the Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, that the Top Six of the ruling party had asked President Jacob Zuma to resign as head of State.
According to Mashatile, who was not aware he was being recorded, Zuma told them to put the idea of his resignation as President of South Africa in a very dark place, where the sun never shines. This revelation came on the very day Zuma was supposed to deliver the State of the Nation Address (Sona). As you know, the presiding officers of Parliament – the Speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces – had announced the postponement of Sona a few days earlier.
I must confess that I was both surprised and not by the decision to postpone the address, and the more I think about it, the more I doubt it was a good decision. I was surprised because I could not then, and can still not, think of a single legal justification for the postponement. If the reasons advanced by the presiding officers are anything to go by, political considerations outweighed the legal. At face value, what weighed heavily on their minds was the spectre of violence and mayhem. But, I am not ruling out the possibility that one of the presiding officers, if not both, did not want Zuma to deliver the address, which would mean the postponement was partly informed by personal preferences. The postponement of Sona is not only unprecedented but signifies the extent to which the unraveling of Zuma’s political life has become irreversible.
As these events were unfolding, a question popped into my head: What would Zuma do if he had been a Roman emperor? Obviously, he would have fallen on his sword if the alternative was to be captured alive and face the possibility of being quartered and hanged – maybe in that order. As I write this sentence, I am of the firm view that he, like Caesar, will suffer a fall by the swords of others and then fall on his own on the way to political oblivion.
In Zulu, they sometimes talk about ukufaka inyoka endlini – to keep a snake in your house – which, as you know, is a very dangerous thing to do, unless the snake is either made of rubber or is not poisonous. Otherwise, it was very unstrategic of the Zuma camp to think Zuma would survive after they had conspired against their own interests by electing Cyril Ramaphosa to the deputy presidency of the ANC at the 2012 national conference. Now the venom is coursing through Zuma’s bloodstream on its way to the heart. Soon, he will stop breathing.
What fate awaits Ramaphosa, the ANC and our country after Zuma has breathed his last political breath?
The elephant in the room is wearing a bright orange uniform. Therefore, there is an expectation that criminal charges will be laid against the former President and some of his allies. Will the ANC survive Zuma’s removal and prosecution? Can Ramaphosa afford to do nothing, given the fact that, for some, Zuma’s scalp must be part of a package of measures aimed at boosting confidence on the part of citizens and economic actors on the global and domestic fronts?
If Ramaphosa blinks, the perception will take root that his spine is as hard as a banana peel. Even if such a perception is at variance with objective reality, subjective perceptions of weakness may undermine him. He must accept that, whatever he decides to do or not to do, there will be some level of instability in the ANC. He must, therefore, decide whether he will be the first president of the ANC since the advent of democracy to miss the train to the Union Buildings. He must exploit the fact that the chances of the ANC retaining power in 2019 have improved since his election as ANC president in Nasrec. The fact that he won by a very slim margin means that he must work very hard towards building a new majority in the ANC – a majority whose fidelity towards the ideals of the ANC will be much stronger than was the case during Zuma’s decade of ignominy.