President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS

It all seems very undignified and unbecoming for a president. But Zuma has no regard for how he appears to the outside world.

He is in fight-back mode and is mobilising his base, which is best done by playing the victim as well as the hero, in the fight against white and foreign forces who want to oppress and steal from black people and keep them poor.

Disturbingly, it has echoes of Robert Mugabe. But as his position grows more desperate, we can expect the populist rhetoric to get louder.

But so too is the noise of the opposition against him. Shortly before Zuma rose in Parliament on Wednesday to denounce the banks for closing the Guptas’s bank accounts, Sipho Pityana, the convener of Save SA, was incredulously repeating Zuma’s comments about witches and asking: "What kind of leader is this?"

Save SA has launched a "people’s motion" for his removal and will hold a silent protest each time he speaks.

The EFF has decided not to recognise him; and the DA and Freedom Under Law are litigating against him and his allies from here to next year.

And if this was not enough, Cosatu on Thursday opened a new front against him, which if successful, will undermine his support within the party and make it difficult to choose his successor. After a hard-fought fight against its own president, Sdumo Dlamini, a Zuma loyalist, Cosatu affiliates have finally pushed a resolution through the central committee that endorses Cyril Ramaphosa as the ANC’s next president.

The central committee also debated whether Zuma should step down as president immediately and, although the meeting decided against it, it was to all accounts a close decision.

So finally we now have a real leadership contest. Several groupings — the Women’s League, the Youth League and several of the provinces — have said it is time for a woman president, chiefly with an eye to bringing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma into the top position.

While Ramaphosa returned to politics out of presidential ambition, his decision to keep a low profile to avoid being shot down too soon, had led many to wonder if he would ever be able to muster the support at all to challenge for a top position in the ANC. Luckily for him, Cosatu has given him a much-needed push in that direction.

So what happens next?

Although Zuma looks like he will remain president for the next 12 months at least, the very fact that the leadership contest is now on means that he is at last on his way to becoming yesterday’s man.

Since 2005, when Zuma began his bid for the ANC presidency, it has become the norm to predict a turbulent time ahead as the ANC gears up for a national conference.

This is of course true again and the lead-up to December 2017 will be turbulent. Each time, though, that the ANC goes to elect its leaders, the stakes get higher .There is more and more to lose as the "sins of incumbency" create ever-greater vested interests and larger patronage networks.

So, yes, it will be turbulent and quite probably violent.

Whether the ANC can manage the process this time will be of historic significance. Around the corner in 2019 lurks the election and the real test of leadership accountability.

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